THE POPE’S KIDNEYS
Two men whom I had the great honor and privilege of knowing quite well have died, one this morning and the other last week. Archbishop Jean Jadot, Apostolic Delegate to the United States and Cardinal Pio Laghi, Papal Nuncio to the United States went home to the Lord whom they had served all their priestly lives. Archbishop Jadot died in his native Belgium this morning at the age of 99 (seventy-five years a priest) and Cardinal Laghi died in Italy last week in his mid-eighties. Both played extremely different but important roles in shaping the Church in the United States.
A papal nuncio to any country, and especially to the United States, can correctly be called the Pope’s eyes and ears. Prepared for the work by attending a special school for future Vatican diplomats in Rome, these men spend many years working in the Vatican embassies throughout the world. Jean Jadot, a Belgian, was sent by Pope Paul VI to the United States after ten years as Nuncio(Delegate) to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and also to the Cameroons in Africa. It has been said that his instructions prior to arrival from Pope Paul were to build up the post-conciliar Church in the United States and to seek genuine pastors of souls for admission to the ranks of bishops. During his seven years, Archbishop Jadot did the Holy Father’s bidding without fear or favor. In the second year of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, Archbishop Jadot was brought back to Rome where he was made President of the Council for Dialogue with Non-Christians – a post he detested and from which he retired after only three years. He was never made a Cardinal and some saw this a punishment for his work in the United States and the selections he made for bishops. If that was the case, never a word of complaint came from his lips. He was the first nuncio to the United States to welcome the Holy Father to these shores in 1979 when Pope John Paul II made his first pastoral visit to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DesMoines, Chicago and Washington.
Archbishop Jadot was succeeded in 1980 by Archbishop Pio Laghi as Apostolic Delegate. His instructions from Pope John Paul II were also clear as he began a process of choosing men largely from academe and with advanced degrees in theology, philosophy and Canon Law. Midway through his decade of service as Apostolic Delegate, President Ronald Reagan opened diplomatic recognition to the Vatican, assigned an ambassador to the Holy See and Laghi ceased being an Apostolic Delegate and became what is called a “Nuncio to the United States” which is Vaticanese for “Ambassador.” Laghi welcome Pope John Paul II back in 1987 for his second pastoral visit to Miami, Columbia, S.C., New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Monterrey, San Francisco and Detroit. Upon leaving Washington, Laghi was made Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and a cardinal at the next consistory.
I genuinely admired and was fond of both men and got to know them closely at first because of being tasked with the responsibility on their behalf and on behalf of the US bishops with the planning and execution of the two papal visits. Jadot was reserved, reflective, and decisive. Laghi was a totally different personality type, engaging, open (more than willing to share secrets), bright, incisive. He knew the United States church well. He often publicly referred to his job as being the “kidneys of the Church” noting that just as kidneys in the body act as filters, so he was a “filter” between Rome and the Church in the United States and vice versa. One thing about his time among us, he could never be accused of kidney failure.
Both of these men I consider great Churchmen serving two different pontificates but loving the Church in the United States nonetheless. They ran a lot of interference for the Church in this country and most of the bishops thought very highly of both, especially if they were chosen for episcopal service during the tenure of one or the other. The diplomatic service of the Church is an important function but it never functions better than when it has a real feel for the challenge of Church leadership in a given time and moment.
Rest in peace, Archbishop Jadot and Cardinal Laghi – there are still people living here in this country grateful for your service.