Saturday, 23 February 2013

Surely there is a better way of electing the Pope?

There has been a run of stories since the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's abdication that can only fill Catholics with a sense of horror as the weaknesses in the Church's governance are exposed to the world.

There is nothing new in such a state of affairs of course: several popes of the tenth century and at the time of the Renaissance are well known to have been vile sinners. Fractured and dysfunctional government of the Church (think Avignon for example) has perhaps more often been the rule than otherwise.

But this is the twenty-first century, and such things cannot readily be hidden from the eyes of the world.

God doesn't choose the Pope, men do!

Surely the most important question we face at the moment is whether the current group of Cardinal-electors are capable of electing the person needed to do the job.

We pray very hard, of course, for them to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this.

But God operates through men in his governance of the Church, and he leaves men free will.

The consequence of this is that men can refuse to listen.

Or their hearts can be so hardened by sin that the Spirit ceases to even try to influence them.

It is true of course that God will protect his Church so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it - he will ensure that a pope will not define heresy as doctrine, and will protect the Church from falling completely.  In a worst case scenario, God will of course so arrange things to bring good out of evil.

But that doesn't mean that the best person for the job - or even a good person for the job - is guaranteed of election.  Indeed, history provides many counter-examples!

Can the current Cardinals elect the right man?

All of this makes the question marks that have arisen over a number of the Cardinal-electors in recent days all the more pertinent.

First we have the prospect of a number of Cardinals who protected priests from prosecution, failed to take action against those with credible accusations against them, and ensured they continued to abuse children brazenly fronting up to participate in the Conclave, even trumpeting the fact to the world.

The most publicised of these cases is surely Cardinal Mahony, removed from his remaining public duties in his diocese but a few weeks ago yet defiantly unrepentant.

But he is not alone.  There are big question marks about New York's Cardinal Dolan (even being touted as papabile in the media), currently giving depositions behind closed doors over cases in his former diocese; Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland; Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium (who had computer files seized at his home in 2010 over suspicions that he helped cover up hundreds of abuse cases); and Cardinal Justin Rigali (retired archbishop of Philadelphia).

Secondly there is the problem of the factionalism, sodomy and corruption that is allegedly rife in the Curia.  Over a third of the Cardinal electors are current or former Curia officials.  In that light the all too credible reports of a gay mafia operating within the Vatican, and the terrible factionalism and corruption exposed in the Vikileaks scandal should be of especial concern to us.

Frankly it is ridiculous that the Curia should be dominated by Italians, and that Italian should be the primary language of the Vatican.  The continuing dominance of Italians in the Vatican almost guarantees problems of the type we are seeing.  The reality is that the Pope may be bishop of Rome, but he doesn't actually technically live in Italy, and there is a reason for that: he governs the world, not just his diocese.  Time for a thorough clean out and rethink on this.

Thirdly there is the problem of the orthodoxy or otherwise of the assorted Cardinal-electors.  The efforts of some to publicly undermine Church doctrines and traditions in the lead up to the election shows just how grave a problem this is.  In Germany, the Bishops Conference has reportedly approved the use of the 'morning after pill' in its hospitals. In Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien has apparently touted not just the prospect of allowing married men to become priests, but of allowing priests to marry (something that has never been permitted as a general principle in either East or West).

Fourthly there is the problem of the composition of the electors, which reflects neither the city of Rome itself (in fact neither the people or priests of Rome get a say at all in the election of their bishop), nor of the Church as a whole.  Over half the Cardinal-electors are from Europe, which makes up only a quarter of the Church in overall numbers.  And it is even more of an anachronism that 28 of the Cardinal-electors are from Italy, who make up a minuscule proportion of the world's Catholics, followed by the next largest group of 11 from the US.  Meanwhile the rapidly growing churches of Africa and Asia are drastically under-represented.

Finally, there is the generational problem.  I'm all for the wisdom of age as a general principle, but the average age of 72 of the electors means virtually all of them lived through that era of brainwashing and bullying by those imbued by the 'spirit of Vatican II' that saw a mass exodus from the Church of priests, religious and laypeople.  Few people of that generation seem to be able to take an objective view of what happened, and see things as they really are (the term brainwashed springs to mind).

Time for a rethink on how we elect Popes I think!


Let us hope that the new Pope will be a radical reformer from within: a man who will clear out the Italian dominated Curia and will instead insist on appointments being made on the basis of genuine administrative and spiritual merit; will insist that all those tainted by mishandling of the abuse crisis resign their positions and retire to a life of penance, or else be degraded; and that all those who hold positions of authority in the Church uphold its teachings and traditions.

Pray hard.


A Canberra Observer said...

So, one of the possible explanations of this state of affairs is that Malachy's list of popes is in fact accurate and we are about to see the last, and that we are in the end times.

The other thing which is evident from your descriptions is the pride of so many of these clerics. Clerical pride, whether there outward garb is flower-wearing hippy or canonical apparatchik - pride.

As to the Germans, that announcement beggars belief. For believing Catholics it makes another temptation - not the temptation to lay back and succumb to the relativism, or the route of the sede vacantatists (just a form of fantastical protestantism really) but to say "well if this isn't true, and that isn't true, it follows that none of it is true". Certainly non-catholic/christian observers (whether hostile or indifferent, it doesn't matter) who interact with orthodox Catholics must surely ask "well what does that mean, it doesnn't seem to stack up, does the Church believe what it has taught or not?"
And that really does qualify as scandal.

Kate Edwards said...

Well personally I'm not much for private prophesies that purport to tell us what Christ told us no one will know!

We are certainly at the end times so far as Western civilization is concerned, but that is not quite the same thing.

And one could equally have looked at the state of the Church many times in the past and concluded that it was all over.

As for the Germans - just shows the problematic nature of bishops conferences I think. The reality is that they have no teaching authority beyond what individual bishops give it, and something seems to go collectively wrong all too often when they do try and formulate pronouncements. Maybe the next pope will abolish them!

Joshua said...

The awful thing is - imagine the Synod of Bishops (hardly a shining collection of holy, zealous and orthodox hierarchs) or indeed any other present-day body (voting en bloc by every Episcopal Conference?), being given for the future the task of electing the new Pope. I suspect that such would do a better job than the Roman aristocracy of the so-called Pornocracy (they gave the Church Benedict IX), but the still earlier system of appointment by clergy, military officers (representing the Eastern Emperor) and the tumultuous Roman populace, much as such a time-bound system obviously could not be revived, actually did rather a better job at choosing Popes than what we could candidly expect the Synod of Bishops and/or modern Episcopal Conferences could produce.

The College of Cardinals in Conclave assembled rather resembles what Churchill said of democracy: a terrible system, but still better than all the alternatives.

Just imagine if election of the Pope, not to mention diocesan bishops, were opened up to either a larger electorate of bishops (whose quality is depressingly low), let alone to all the lower clergy (in every sense: their standard is awful). The awful, worse-than-Anglican mediocrities and dissenters that would be elected are too horrid to imagine.

If it were not for the Pope and the antique and all but completely bizarre method of his election, the Catholic Church would be *worse* than the Anglican. Why? Because so few have the Faith, or even know what it is. Why? Because even now we have so few bishops willing and able to act. Why? As the Pope said while still a Cardinal, it is truly frightening to consider the presence within the Church of so many:

"...empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!"

Truer words were never spoken. The Bride of Christ is the Casta Meretrix, the Chaste Harlot; and lately too many of her members, even those pledged to celibacy, have forgotten the adjective and embraced the noun. St Mary of Egypt, pray for them!

Humanly speaking, one would be in despair. But the Church is dyophysite, so to speak: the Divine irrupts into the wretchedness of our mortal lot. The Holy Ghost does not "get it wrong", whatever a certain Eminence of Sydney may have so ineptly said - He will give us the Pope that God in His inscrutable Providence has chosen from all eternity, whether a good one or a bad one, a nobody or a man to be remembered all down the ages: and God does what He does "for us men and our salvation", be it ever so hard for us fallible creatures to perceive how.

The Austrians have a joke: "In Germany they say, 'The situation is serious but not hopeless'; but here in Vienna we say, 'The situation is hopeless, but not serious.'"

Mary Abraham said...

I think there needs to be a big clean up of the Vatican, and Church leaders in general. Get rid of the effete, the wordly, the heretics, the dissipated, the gossip-mongers, the title and costume lovers.

These later often pass themselves off as 'orthodox', but in reality are far from orthodoxy.

Let's hope that we get someone who bring the Church back to Christianity in its purest form- a Fransciscan or a monk.

Joshua said...

I second Mary Abraham - but immediately one realizes that St Celestine V was just such a holy hermit, and his Pontificate ended in his abrupt abdication! Indeed, in Benedict XVI we have had a good and holy Pope, but he has adjudged it best for the Church and souls that he, too, abdicate, since the Petrine ministry requires of him what he can no longer give, worn out as he is in body and soul.

We need a zealous reformer, certainly, and one burning not merely with zeal but above all with Christlike love; yet not so sentimental in his mercy as to forget to punish those who well deserve it (since for too long every species of vice has flourished for this reason), but able to commit the worst sinner to strict penance, yet not so as for that offender to fall into despair.

I am reminded of the famous story of Cardinal Montalto at the Conclave of 1585: he hobbled about as if half-dead UNTIL he was elected, whereupon he threw away his walking stick and intoned the customary Te Deum in so vigorous and aggressive a voice as to cause all the other Cardinals to quake with fear! Yet Sixtus V did achieve a lot as Pope: if the new Pope is Sixtus VI, pity not just the tongue-tied and lispers (!) but the complacent...

Matthias said...

i agree with all of you.
Firstly the cardinals who have had questions raised about their handling of child abuse,have hides thicker than a rhino's-
I pray that God will punish them in His own time.
Secondly we need to get rid of the Italian influence and staff at the Vatican and make it reflective of the Church at large
Thus i am praying for a zealot who will clean out the whole lot and start again under the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Micha Elyi said...

If Ms. Edwards surely believes there is a better way to elect a pope then she surely could name one.

She didn't.

Kate Edwards said...

Micha - I think there are any number of reasonable possibilities, the first question though is how broken we think the the current system is, and radical we want to be in the repairs.

The current system is quite new - it has only been used once, viz to elect the current Pope, since JPII amended the rules to exclude all cardinals over 80 from voting.

I'm certainly not in favour of the bishops conferences having a vote, but maybe there is a way of going back to much earlier electoral models, and perhaps setting up an electoral college with representatives of clergy, religious and laity from around the world?

Suzanne F. said...

There's a reason we have this system.

It's because when the Roman clergy used to vote for the pope, riots would break out. The plebe would try to influence the vote.

I think the cardinal conclave system is the best one.

I can just imagine all the politicking and MONEY that would be spent if we expanded the vote beyond the cardinals.

bleusmon said...

I read last week a post by a Catholic blogger (can't recall who) pointing out that ever since Pius IX was elected in the 1840s the Church has seen an extraordinary unbroken run of great popes.

I would add that Benedict has appointed nearly 60% of the electors so the odds of another worthy successor are better than they wer in 2005, and certainly superior to what might have resulted in 1978.

I agree with Suzanne with a special nod to Joshua's citation of Churchill's famous and correct observation.

PLEASE! Let's not commit the folly of bringing clerics, religious, and laity into the electoral process. That's is exactly what the Catholic Left wants. Using their media allies they will hijack the entire process to control the outcome.

Spending an ounce of energy or focus on the various wishes offered in this thread are a waste of time. Not that I agree or disagree with what you desire; it's just that it's not going to happen.

There will be no magnificent Rider on a white horse until He returns and NOT before. So, for the foreseeable future, Italian will remain the language of the Vatican and Italians will out number everybody else.

None of this system is intended to be or even look like representative democracy. I personally do not want the responsibility to elect a pope.

We are on the right track in choosing popes since Pius IX. Ourpart in this is HUGE.


Kate Edwards said...

A great series of recent popes?! The current (for another few days) incumbent aside, I'd really dispute that.

Perhaps they have mostly been relatively holy men at a personal level, but many of their prudential decisions have left much to be desired in my view!

And just because the progressives endorse something doesn't make it automatically wrong. The first election of a replacement apostle appears to have involved all of the believers (Acts 1), and many different election methods continue to be used in the Eastern Catholic Churches.

I'm not advocating any particular method though, just suggesting the current one needs an overhaul, particularly as we have a cardinal elector suddenly resigning in disgrace but a few days before the conclave starts...