There’s much to discuss about Benedict’s resignation and the conclave.
The resignation itself: the cause against
The best commentary I’ve seen on Pope Benedict’s resignation is by Atila Sinke Guimarães at Tradition in Action and linked at The Thinking Housewife. I agree that this establishes a horrible precedent. As Guimaraes points out, it alters the very constitution of the Church from a monarchy to an aristocratic republic, with ultimate power residing in the College of Cardinals and the pope their merely temporary representative. The role of pope is no longer personal and paternal; it is reconceived along the lines of an ordinary job that one takes up and puts down. Quasi-filial piety toward the person of the pope will no longer be possible, so that regardless of how differently the Vatican operates, Church authority will be experienced in a different, and impoverished, way.
I disagree with Guimaraes only in his worry that the Church might return to its ancient division of power among the five major patriarchs. I don’t think we are headed in that direction, and I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing if we were. In fact, I think that post-Vatican II orthodox Catholicism’s dependence on the pope is not a healthy thing. Even the ultramontane centralization of the Church in the 19th century was more a necessary response to external attacks than a desirable development in itself. Some people say an infirm pope must step aside because the Church will suffer greatly from not having a strong arm at the helm for years. I say that this is a very bad thing in itself. We should not be relying on the pope to be the impetus for every orthodox and evangelical action among Catholics. The pope is not going to reform the Church for us. Nor should there be the current stigma attached to the idea of “trying to be more Catholic than the pope”, that is, the idea that taking a more traditionalist or morally-strict position (within the bounds of orthodoxy) than the pope somehow makes one a silly extremist. As I’ve said before, the lack of criticism of the Vatican from the Right means that the Church will continue to drift Leftward. And isn’t it a bit embarrassing that nearly every pope since the French Revolution is up for canonization? These are all, no doubt, good men, but doesn’t the whole situation carry a whiff of unseemly flattery? Lastly, having regular periods of government inaction due to personal infirmity is one of the charms of monarchy, and it would be a shame for the Church to lose this along with the other advantages of personal rule.
The resignation itself: the cause for
There is one silver lining to all of this, and that is that it throws a wrench into the American plot to capture the pope and subject him to a show trial. True, the legal case is against the Vatican itself, and not a particular officeholder. However, an attack on another sovereign nation cannot help but rise from the legal to the political sphere, so the public must be brought to agree. Thus, the campaign has focused much of its energy on demonizing pope Benedict personally. Now all of that is irrelevant, and it will be difficult for them to credibly switch all the blame for the sexual abuse crisis from Benedict to whoever the new pope turns out to be. I would go so far as to say that this is the first serious setback the sue-the-Vatican movement has faced.
A word for the Old Guard
Phil Lawler is outraged that the American Cardinals “apparently under pressure” have suspended their regular press briefings. He accuses a reactionary curial “Old Guard” of not seeing the value of “transparency”. Having something of an “Old Guard” mentality myself, I will present the other side. What the more prudent members of the Curia realize is that the press is the enemy. It may not be true that they write (or suppress) stories with the sole intention of inflicting maximal harm on the Faith, but someone who assumes this is their sole motive will be able to predict their actions with nearly perfect success. Granting more access to the press will not win them over, nor will the charms of Cardinal Dolan, which seem to so impress Lawler, be allowed by the editor to affect any story’s overall impression. The first and last word will always be given to Hans Kung or someone like him. There is nothing we can do about this. The goal must be to discourage people from thinking of the newspapers as good sources of information about the Church. This is the value of refusing to talk to them on any occasion. Yes, as Lawler says, they will then turn to rumors and leaks for information, but these will usually be inaccurate (and they can be made yet less accurate by the strategic placing of false leaks), and a news site that reports them will quickly come to be seen as unreliable.
Lawler claims that
it is significant that the College of Cardinals has not acceded to the pressure for a quick conclave. The Old Guard has apparently lost that contest…
He’s probably right, but once again, it is the Old Guard, not Lawler, who has the right idea. The longer the process of choosing a pope is dragged out, the longer the media has to agitate against us. Remember, they are taking this time to prepare the mass of Catholics to reject the eventual choice, or to pressure the new pope with false expectations that he is about to endorse all manner of sexual sins. The conclave should be done as quickly as possible, to present the press with a fiat accompli. They can write one story if they like complaining about the failure of the Church to submit to their oversight, and then they have to go back to other devilry. But what if the cardinals get it wrong and chose a mediocrity? So much the better. It would do us good to have a mediocre pope every now and then.
Regarding the “Old Guard” in general, I wasn’t going to bring this up, but Lawler steps right in it.
In the months leading up to the Second Vatican Council, the Old Guard then ensconced in the Roman Curia prepared a series of carefully worded documents for the Council’s approval. To their surprise and dismay, the Council fathers rejected those drafts, demanding more visionary statements. The Old Guard wanted to continue with business as usual; the leaders of the universal Church chose otherwise. Could something similar be happening in Rome this week?
And how’d that one work of for ya, Phil? Can’t you just feel that springtime of Vatican II? Like a baseball bat to the shins. Suppose we imagine an alternate history, where people who cared more for the eternal souls of their flock carried the day over those who craved the adulation of the press. Tens of millions of people who are now in hell might instead be in the presence of God.