That whole getting a new pope thing

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.

7 thoughts on “That whole getting a new pope thing

  1. In fact, I think that post-Vatican II orthodox Catholicism’s dependence on the pope is not a healthy thing.

    I agree it is unhealthy, but it is unhealthy in the way that chemotherapy is unhealthy, or the way the Cheetohs are unhealthy? There is a difference between a rear-guard action and a rear-guard action with the blessing of the Pope.

    • That’s a good point. On the other hand, our luck in popes has got to run out someday. The Holy Spirit will guarantee that no pope will teach falsehood ex cathedra, but not much else. One of these decades soon, we’ll have an idiot or a coward on the throne of Saint Peter who will decide he doesn’t want “controversy”, so he’ll spend all his time demonizing immigration restrictionists. When that happens, we’ve got to be ready to carry on the fight on our own.

  2. Quasi-filial piety toward the person of the pope will no longer be possible

    It’s interesting that you bring up the subject of filial piety in the context of Guimarães’ article, which struck me as a good example of just about the opposite affection.

    Observe, for instance, the noble and statuesque bearing of the Titanic‘s captian in his photo, compared to the swarthy complexion and (dare we to think it?) demonic appearance of the Holy Father in his candid snapped by the paparazzi, or whomever, the former being caught right in the middle of doing none other than “carrying out his progressivist agenda” (would you expect anything better from such an evil-looking man?)

    As for others captaining the Barque, one would think at least a passing word in appreciation of Pope John Paul II would have been expended by Guimarães at some point in the past eight years, since he remained in the Chair of St. Peter even to the point of prolonged and debilitating disease and death, and apparently (per Guimarães) against what would have been the fierce counsel to abdicate from others within the Curia, notably Cardinal Ratzinger himself, and against JPII’s own (again, per Guimarães) desire to see the Papacy weakened. Instead of at least a single note of praise one might expect from a son of the Church, we have an entire article upon the death of JPII the only purpose of which was to cast suspicion upon the cause of his death.

    This has perhaps the appearance of an ad hominem against Guimarães, but I bring up the aforementioned things to say that it all makes it difficult for me to take any of his articles seriously, including the one mentioned here by Bonald and TTH. Guimarães seems to have something wrong in the head, that wrong thing being the inability to see anything good in the person of a post-Vatican II pope. Frankly I’m having to place myself in a trusting position to take seriously Guimarães assertions that Pope Benedict’s abdication is the result of his desire to cause disintegration to the office, as this idea never would have occurred to me (is it not possible, for instance, that Pope Benedict received a divine message, locution-style, that directly counseled him in his decision? Unlikely perhaps, but not impossible. But where is the room for this possibility in Guimarães formulations? It would be more than embarrassing for Guimarães if it turned out to have been just so.) Guimarães makes it almost impossible for me to put myself in that trusting position because of the consistent lack of piety I see in his articles toward the divinely ordained personage of the Pope. I appreciate thoughtful and respectful criticism of the Pope in its proper place, but Guimarães is predictable and thoughtless, in my opinion, to be counted upon always to place the decisions of any post-Vatican II Pope in the category of bad faith. His lack of discretion is scandalous as I see it, by influencing others to hold the same lack of piety toward the person who is the Vicar of Christ.

  3. I have gone on record as applauding the pope’s resignation and as hoping for future resignations to become more common. Thanks to Bonald, it now gives me pause. Congratulations.

    Yes, the pope is not a CEO. Yes, ordinary Bishops should ordinarily (i.e., 99.9% of the time) be ruling their dioceses (who, in contrast, DO have retirement ages). So, yes, in theory, we should not see it as a great liability if the Head of the State of Vatican City spends five years dying and cannot effectively manage the affairs of the Church. Yes, we would hate for anything resembling democratic politics to ever have sway in the global leadership of the Church.

    However, in times of crisis, sometimes a robust and activist King is exactly what you need. And an ailing JPII did not, and a soon-to-be ailing BXVI would not appear to, fit that bill. And the Church is in the midst of a 2+ century crisis of modernism, made far worse by the liberation of anarchic forces in Vatican II. Is this crisis special vis-a-vis all the other crises that She has been in over the past 2000 years? Is the Church always in crisis of some sort? I dunno.

    I can say we have appallingly bad Bishops (and Priests) over the past 40 years, and that they are only now (creepingly, slowly) being replaced. In the past 40 years it has been pretty good to be able to appeal to Rome, even if that appeal didn’t always amount to much.

    If Rome goes rotten, or should I say rottener, we will take great comfort in having good local Ordinaries… assuming we have them.

  4. Your view on this was interesting, Bonald. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    I was discussing this with my son in the car this afternoon, as they were talking about it on the radio. He asked me if we were going to vote for a new pope, the way we voted for a president. I said that we weren’t going to vote and we don’t have representation, as the Church isn’t a democracy. The cardinals elect someone while being guided by the Holy Spirit.

    And then I felt a moment of gratitude for the Church. Thank goodness we don’t get to vote!

  5. Pingback: Stares at the World » Schelling Points & the Catholic Church

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