8 August 2021

FROM ARCHIVES: Weakening the Papacy

This piece is from June 4 2015.

If the head master of an English public school addressed Common Room and angrily listed the seventeen ways in which its members were corrupt, and did it just before Christmas [as the Pope did to the Curia in 2014], something would happen. The Governing Body would know about it within hours ... because there always seem to be members of Common Room who are on easy social terms with members of the Governing Body. So, sometime in January, two or three senior members of the Governing Body would be detailed to have a private, completely friendly, unofficial and entirely off-the-record chat with the head master ... sort of ... er ... about How He Saw His Future. But, of course, the Catholic Church is not like an English public school.

Is it like a British governing party? Mrs Thatcher was a powerful prime minister. But, in the end, too many people felt that they had just about had enough. In were sent the Men in Grey Suits. Perhaps the one blow that most deeply wounded the Iron Lady was delivered by the very greyest of all the grey men who have ever lived, Geoffrey Howe; of whom some wit (Dennis Healey, I think) had averred that being attacked by him was like being savaged by a dead sheep. Mercilessly, in a House of Commons where you could have heard a pin drop, he destroyed her with an elegant metaphor drawn from the game of cricket. Within weeks, she was History.

What, of course, has made the Papacy different from both of those institutions is that the pope does not retire. He carries on until death. So, apart from murdering him ... a solution with "First Millennium" precedents ...  there is no way of getting rid of him. He can't be manoeuvred into retiring. Strategies designed to isolate him, to put pressure on him, to plot against him, to ambush him, to stack up coalitions against him, simply don't make any practical sense. You just have to put up with him until Providence sends in the Grim Reaper. There are no men in grey suits, or greying cassocks, to put a friendly knife in.

Or rather, that is how things were until the abdication of Benedict XVI.

I do not think that the implications of his abdication have yet been fully recognised. Not since the Council of Constance had a living pope receded from the See of Rome. In 1415, the Council deposed the 'Pisan' pope John XXIII, and then accepted the resignation of the 'Roman' pope Gregory XII on 4 July. In 1417 it deposed the 'Avignon' pope Clement VIII, and elected Martin V. No subsequent pope has abdicated or been deposed. Since then, the assumption that the pope is a Given whom only God can loose from his pontificate, has, surely, been one of the most potent protections of each succeeding pontiff.

After Benedict's abdication, nothing can ever be the same again. No future pope can ever be as immovable as every pope was from Constance until Benedict.

Eventually, this will sink in. Eventually, popes will become as disposable as head masters and Mrs Thatcher.

And this implies a consequential loss of power; a vulnerability.

[I wonder if (I wouldn't put it past him) Pope Benedict XVI realised all this. I wonder if his abdication was his last and most masterly coup to undermine the post-Vatican II construct, against which he had so vigorously argued, of the Pope Who Can Do Anything, who is an Absolute Monarch; and to restore the Vatican I model of a strictly limited papacy with its limitations clearly and lucidly described.]


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. I wonder if his abdication was his last and most masterly coup to undermine the post-Vatican II construct..

This sounds like Qanon in America arguing that Trump did not invoke The Insurrection Act, assemble a militia owing to the election theft etc, just to show how bad liberals are. Yes, leaving your supporters high and dry is now a virtue.

The problem with that analysis is the clear and present danger the Papacy will come to be viewed as just another CEO type job in the Church.

One supposes there are examples of a shepherd abandoning his flock for a putatively good reason but one is hard pressed to think of one.

Compton Pauncefoot said...

Pope Benedict's XVI's abdication was a catastrophe for the Church.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

When any bishop is above the church, speaks on his own, in time that bishop weakens the whole structure. Unlimited power is invested in God alone, and never in any vicar. No hope without the pope soonn morphs no hope in the pope.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. The progressive planting that began in 1970 has come to fruition, rendering the Catholic Church an image of the values of the world:


Even before this, however, another meaningful occurrence which might be very useful for the research I have suggested, should be mentioned. I quotefrom the Spanish What's Up (Que' Pasa?) magazine, Vol. VII, No. 363 , ofDecember 12, 1970:

The famous and "regretfully" octogenarian Cardinal Ottaviani does not conceal his bitterness...

According to the Pope's November 24 Motu Proprio, beginning next January no eighty-year-old cardinal will be able to participate in the election of the Pontiff. Presently, these persons amount to twenty-five. Among them is saintly Cardinal Ottaviani, who celebrated his eightieth birthday on October 29,1970.

Question: Eminence, could not this discrimination of octogenarian cardinals by chance affect the Pontiff himself someday?

Answer: Certainly, for the same criterion must be analogically applied to the case of the sovereign Pontiff, be he an octogenarian or be his acts questioned due to age....

Apropos of Paul VI's decision to keep the election of the Pope in the hands of less-than-80-year-old cardinals, Cardinal Tisserant said he did not know the grounds thereof (though the Pontifical document stated them clearly), and that, undoubtedly, the Pope wanted to please young people, since "now, everybody wants old people to disappear."


Fr. Raymond Dulac:

After this blow and all the others of the past five years designed to naturalize and laicize the clergy, how could one have the heart to keep on telling the ordained young priests: "Tu es sacerdos in aetemum secundum ordinem Meichisedech?" Priest for all eternity? Of what order?

Not of the carnal Levitical tribe, but of the order of that astonishing, unique , ageless personage, Melchisedech, whose mystery is revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, verse 3 of Chapter 7: "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but likened unto the Son of God, continueth a priest forever."

This all being over, today's priest is just like an official who, in due course,is "retired," with a life pension, like a Swiss guard.


Is it now to be the praxis of the Vicar of Christ not to go to his cross a weak, frail, ailing Pontiff ? Did Jesus go to the Cross unbowed and unaided?

So what if he is growing weak and can not fly off to a world youth day or meet and greet the demented dictator of some crummy country? He can delegate those responsibilities.

So what if Pope Paul VI flew all over the world and became a celebrity covered by the media ?

Were his personal habits and practices to become the new model for the Papacy?

Seems so.

What the Catholic Church requires is a Pope who STOPS meeting with the media every day and STOPS going to World Youth Days and STOPS leaving Vatican City.

Its time for the Pope to disappear from the news cycle as his constance presence in the minds of the Church and the world has not produced an increase in Christianity, piety or orthodoxy.

He does not have to ever leave Vatican City or appear on TV to discharge his duties. Over time, the less he is seen and heard, the more likely it will be that when he does appear in public with something of importance to say, he will have the attention of the church and the world.

With the advent of The 60s Synod, discipline disappeared, praise of the world increased and continuity with the past in Worship, Doctrine and Authority suffered a rupture.

It is time to put on sack cloth and ashes, beg forgiveness and strive to rebuild the bastions so many progressives insisted be razed.

E sapelion said...

I don't recall whether it is in the book, but the 2005 film of Tom Brown's Schooldays has Dr Arnold laying down his newly devised law in no uncertain terms to his schoolmasters. Some of them angrily reject the notion that they should take any responsibility for the pupils.

Grant Milburn said...

Is that what Benedict was thinking back in 2013?

"I have a Cunning Plan. Conservatives in the Church these days follow the strategy: 'Sure, everything in the Church has been at sixes and sevens since Vatican 2, but just stick close to the Pope, and you'll be fine.' That works after a fashion, but it turns the Pope into a rock star, and infantilises the laity. The Church is not North Korea!

"Now, if I resign, the St Gallen mob is sure to install Bergoglio, as they were trying to do in 2005. Then that strategy of the-Pope-is-your-oracle won't work so well. Conservatives will have to abandon it. The other side will try it for a while, but Bergoglianism will be so obviously incoherent as a philosophy that the horse will scarcely make it out of the starting gates. That will leave a right view of Scripture and Tradition as a true guide for a Catholic, together with a proportionate measured view of the Papacy and Vatican 2."

Stephen Barber said...

There is a precedent for a papal abdication. Pope Celestine V abdicated in 1294. Dante took a dim view of this.

Joshua said...

Your theory reminds me of the conceit of Graves' "I Claudius" and "Claudius the God", that Claudius, having become Emperor, secretly wished to the restore the Republic, and hoped to achieve that aim by ruling very poorly indeed.

Unknown said...

"...Dr Arnold laying down his newly devised law..."
Of all the things (and especially the English things) which Hollywood does not understand, teaching (at all levels) must be among the most important. Their teachers and professors are either martinets who wish to maintain standards or vapid "down with the kids" popularizers. Film-makers know nothing, in their nasty instant medium, of the long patience and slow commitment that is required to lift one's pupils up to the level of their full potential

coradcorloquitur said...

Quite the opposite has indeed happened from what this theory proposes regarding Papa Ratzinger's motive for resigning: Vatican II has been exalted as the greatest council in 2000 of Catholicism (which it does not even come close to being) and papolatry has disfigured both the papacy and the doctrine of infallibility as narrowly defined, solemnly and clearly, by Vatican I. So, what we have, for any rational person to see, is the deification of a council and the idolization of the Petrine office. If indeed Benedict XVI thought the Bergoglio strategy would purge the Church of ridiculous, idolatrous excesses, then he is not remotely as intelligent as many of us took him to be. If that was his gamble, he played with fire at the expense of the good of countless souls---quite a serious thing to do. The real explanation for his fateful resignation lies, I wager, rather in his abiding liberalism (even if measured compared to that of the crazies who now rule the Church). For an excellent---and heart-rending---analysis of this hard reality one could consult the superb, balanced account of Ratzinger's trajectory and thought since his early influential years as a priest-professor in the most recent issue of Roger McCaffrey's journal "Traditionalist." It is disheartening, but a serious analysis that explains much that has baffled most of us who love the Church and the papacy about Benedict's mysterious resignation---and that from the pens of totally faithful children of the Church. I fear Papa Ratzinger is not as innocent in this agon of Holy Church as many of us thought he was---or as many of us indeed hoped, against hope, that he was.

Ray Kinsella said...

Insightful and very well worth reflecting on...there's far too much theatre and far too little of the Silence about which Cardinal Sara writes so very elequently. Thank you