Thursday, February 14, 2013

For better or worse, in sickness and health...



I am a Catholic, I tend to think everything the Pope does is good, and I suppose theologically I would describe myself as a Ratzingerian, so I do not normally criticise the Pope and I trust his judgement but at the heart of the Pope's theology is "both and" rather than "either or". So having suggested some very good reasons for the Pope to resign rather than die in office let me present a few contrary arguments.

The Pope's resignation sets a precedent, it presumably means his successors are now likely to resign when they feel unable to continue. If future generations are likely to live to over a 100 we could end up with a small gang of past Popes living in the Vatican gardens. What is the collective noun for a group of Popes?

The precedent also means that other bishops are more likely to resign if they feel they are declining before they reach retirement age. In the case of those bishops who hate being a bishop and tell everyone it could be a good thing but it is not always the case.

If Popes are expected to retire rather than die there will be an increased pressure on future Popes by factions in the Curia to go, not so much when they want but when they are pressured to do so. Anti-Pope factions are likely to think it worth building up pressure on a Pope or his household to force him out, so too is the world's media..

The retirement of a Pope seriously undermines the ancient notion of the mystical marriage of a bishop to his Church, which contains in it the idea of the esse of a bishops relationship being more important than agere. What he is in relationship to his diocese until VII was considered to be more important than what he did, it seems to come from deep in the heart of Catholic/Orthodox Tradition, it could be argued it goes back to the Apostles, hence the Orthodox hatred of "desiring other Thrones", which in the East is seen as kind of simony. Thus I have a little sympathy for Cardinal Dziwisz' remarks about Pope John Paul not choosing to get down off the cross. Putting up with a bishop for better or worse, in sickness and health, until death do us part is or at least was of the marriage. The relationship with a bishop and his diocese is about a relationship of mutual cherishing, not one of pure functionalism.

32 comments:

RJ said...

I tend to agree with you, Father, but I note that bishops do resign, and continue to live in their dioceses.

Another point relating to the possibility of a Pope abdicating or being replaced: what if a Pope were to fall victim to Alzheimers and couldn't even recognise his closest aids. In that case, it doesn't seem unreasonable to have a procedure for replacing him. That being so, one could argue that there is no absolute - until death us do part - link between the papal office and the incumbent, and therefore there might be other instances - such as age and infirmity which could justify abdication. Not sure I've convinced myself but..

lx54 said...

Speaking as an Orthodox Christian, it's a bit of a tricky one. Our bishops tend not to resign - and when they do it is an occasion of shock and even scandal. Our theology of bishops is pretty much as you say, and it seems to me very close to the Western understanding.

On the other hand, there are bishops who have tottered on for long after their bodies ceased to be of any great use to them, and this has been - in some cases - fertile ground for scheming and politicking, and all the other symptoms of our fallenness. Sometimes when a bishop becomes too frail to get out much, he appoints an episcopal vicar to be his legs. This can be very useful, but carries its own set of theological problems. It can also be divisive.

I don't have any answers. Speculation in these circumstances leads to all manner of demons, and I think that they are the kind that can best be driven out by prayer and fasting. The Holy Spirit never fails, and this should give us comfort.

The Rad Trad said...

Fr Blake,

I understand your concerns over precedent and I share those concerns. How could one not?

Still, I do not think the Holy Father is doing this strictly because he is tired or feels he has carried his cross long enough. Leo XIII ran the Papal Household, oversaw curial functions, and said public Masses into his nineties. If Benedict is renouncing his office he must have concluded that his ability to even perform these basic Papal functions is in swift decline. I think the next Pope will be able to see a distinction between Benedict's situation and those of his predecessors'.

August said...

The pressure from factions is probably already there. I figure popes can still say things publicly and thereby force some issues, but when things go through official channels, it is very likely things get shelved or re-interpreted when underlings don't like what the pope is saying.
Progressives like to get jobs within the very institutions they are seeking to pervert.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Some excellent points. We should not, however, be afraid of the confusion that has been generated by these developments. They are an accurate reflection of where we are as a Church.

I am baffled as to why the Pope simply could not have slowed down completely to the point of inactivity? I have already posted previously that the Cardinals will irresponsibly rush into a conclave when they should pause for at least 6 months and reassess the situation. In my view the interregnum should be extended indefinitely until the Pope expires in God’s time and not ours. If nothing else it presents the Church with an opportunity for some universal soul searching and accomplish more elegantly the will of the Holy Father. Moreover, it would avoid the precedents to which you have drawn our attention namely that any future Pope who takes the decision to abdicate freely will then know he is ushering in an interregnum. This may not change his decision but at least provide clarification for all. The example of Gregory XII is perhaps more instructive than St. Celestine V in that regard.

The papacy is now in a mess and is being used by all sides to hide deep divisions and even schism within the Church. It has become a façade rather than a focus of unity. This must be acknowledged first and foremost and an interregnum is the time to say it. Let us not dance to the tune of 24/7 media outlets and their need (and sadly ours) for instant gratification. Let us pause with our present Pope and pray with him for World peace and for the Church.

Dilly said...

Dear Fr Blake

With respect to your points about the abdication setting a precedent, you are of course correct. My gut feel, however, is that with hindsight, his decision will be seen as wise, and generous. His Vatican 2 speech as reported on Rorate, is evidence that his intelligence is undimmed, but the nature of his physical decline is similar to that of my father. I won't discuss it in public, but many of those who have nursed elderly parents will recognise that the Pope's action was not an idle whim.

GOR said...

Agreed Father, there are implications to the Holy Father’s ‘retirement’ which can cause future problems – just as there are implications to a long drawn out decline of a frail pope who is ‘out of touch’ and must leave day to day administration to others. That too, is fraught with danger and leads to confusion and ‘turf wars’.

As to the “til death do us part” piece, well that used to be true of priests also! In my younger days there was no such thing as ‘retirement’ for priests. Pastors stayed in their parishes until death. The priesthood, too, is a lifetime commitment. My old parish in Ireland has a separate area in the cemetery where all former pastors (up to the 1960s at least…) are buried. All died in office.

Of course back then the PPs would have had a multiplicity of curates to carry on the work even when incapacitated by age or illness. But that, too, had its problems. As the PPs were ‘irremovable’ back then, the curates had little hope of a parish of their own until well advanced in years - if at all. When many of them did, they were already nearing what today is considered ‘retirement’ age…

With the Holy Spirit guiding the Church and the Holy Father noting that he took this decision as a result of much prayer and reflection, can we doubt that this is God’s will for His Church at this time?

john-of-hayling said...

Collective noun? A posse of Popes?

Jackie Parkes said...

Abdication is not the same as divorce - we as Catholics always knew a Pope could abdicate..

It is true that the Roman Pontiff has no superior on earth into whose hands he can resign his dignity, yet he himself by the papal power can dissolve the spiritual marriage between himself and the Roman Church. A papal abdication made without cause may be illicit, but it is unquestionably valid, since there is no one who can prohibit it ecclesiastically and it contravenes no divine law. The papacy does not, like the episcopacy, imprint an indelible character on the soul, and hence by his voluntary abdication the Pope is entirely stripped of all jurisdiction, just as by his voluntary acceptance of the election to the primacy he acquired it. New Advent - Catholic Encyclopaedia

David said...

JPII gave great teaching by his suffering and death. BXVI sees the need for different teaching; to go through the same decline would not give any new teaching. We should respect his intelligence, his wisdom, his humility and the fact that he is God's chosen. We cannot say whether a precedent has been set until the NEXT Pope dies OR retires, and even then the one after him could decide differently!As Benedict has said "Pray for me; pray for the Church; pray for the new Pope." That's what we have to do - anything else is uncalled-for and unwise.

L.T. said...

Your functionalism vs. essentialism argument regarding the papal office would be stronger if curial culture in the Vatican were not so highly functionalized, politicized, and depersonalized to begin with. Few bishoprics in church history or in the present day must deal with anything close to the scale & scope of the Pope's oversight duties due to the bureaucratic apparatus we have to run a global church that places such heavy weight on top-down unity & order. Moscow edging closer to Rome in this category. Anyway, I'm not here to question the theological merits of our ecclesiology. I'm just saying the functionalist attitudes creeping into our theology of holy orders may be in large part a function of getting what we paid for.

Arguably, the Orthodox would point out that though they share much in common theologically with Rome, their patriarchates are much smaller operations that do not require the administrative vigor or rigor that the Roman papacy does, which in turn allows them to enjoy a much less functionalist, more nuptial model for their patriarchs with little risk to church order. Even though health care technology is radically transforming the way and the timing in which we die, Orthodox patriarchates are perhaps more well-adapted to endure the cross of protracted aging in their patriarchs.

The other issue is curial culture itself. It's theoretically possible to have a curial culture saturated with selfless but savvy dedication & devotion to the Gospel & the Kingdom of God. A curia that models itself self-consciously after the Christian desert, in daily submission to the great Apostles & Fathers of the Church. A curia made up of real men who grasp with their chests the gravity of their offices. A curia that kept a steady eye on the A curia that would never take advantage of an ailing pope to pursue their own agendas, shirk their duties, or shy away from their responsibilities to this ancient but living faith. Sadly it is not. The question is whether modern Catholic faith is effectively doing everything it can to produce such a curia, not just in the Vatican but in all our dioceses and parishes. Or is it doing much to produce the same functionalist bureaucratic culture that makes a pope like Benedict choose retirement as a way of minimizing the risk of Vatican mismanagement under his de jure (but not de facto) watch?

Damask Rose said...

A thoughtful thread here, Fr Ray.

Everyone has made valid points.

Pope Benedict has brought beauty back into a Church that had become as bland as its many Church cream interiors.

We have seen Benedict wear beautiful vestments and stand tall next to a new "unbent" papal "pastoral staff". He has been a strong pope who in his pontificate has relentlessly achieved much, even groundbreaking in his pursuit in change of direction.

I for one would not want to see this Pope bent over in his throne suffering the humiliations of old age for the whole world to see with scheming curial minions taking advantage of an old sick Pontiff to further pollute the Church with more progressive garbage.

Long may the sound of Pope Benedict playing Mozart at his piano fill the Vatican gardens where he will take up his residence at retirement, especially to remind us that as man, it is only true beauty that we should and can create, to offer back to God, the King of Kings.

JARay said...

A collection of Popes?
A Papillion of Popes!

Fr Levi said...

It's true that it sets a precedent; but the Pope is a wise man & knows this. This makes me think that he felt that this was the right thing to do in spite of that; perhaps he knows/feels/suspects something is coming in the near future that requires strong leadership? Some situation that can't afford that leadership vacuum that would exist if he were incapacitated by ill health?

I trust & pray that he is doing the right thing & that time will prove his decision correct.

"…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"

Francis said...

It's all so full of ironies. If Blessed John Paul had abdicated in the mid-1990s when his health was collapsing, we would have had 10 years more of Benedict XVI. That John Paul was able to continue to the bitter end was largely due to his trusty "deputy" Joseph Ratzinger being there. Benedict is abdicating partly because he has no such powerful comrade of his own.

tempus putationis said...

We do not need to worry about whether or not a precedent has been set. No future pope will need to seek or challenge a precedent to defend any of his actions since he will not have to satisfy any earthly authority.

PS Father, I am beginning to think that I AM a robot since I have such great difficulty in reading your cryptic 'two words' to get into the combox. Am I alone? Any other robots out there?

animadversor said...

A passel of past popes?

animadversor said...

tempus putationis, you are not the only one to have to try several times. Perhaps it is just as well—gives on a little more time to consider whether or not one's post is worth the posting. I can think of a few times in the past when I have tried to post things I ought not to have. Had it not been for the reverend moderator's wise refusal to admit them, I should have made a bigger fool of myself than usual.

JARay said...

In response to tempus putationis's question....No, you are not alone. I too have quite some difficulty at times. Often it is the number which is rather dark and then, as in a previous posting which I made, I had to ask myself was it a capital "V" or a lower-case "v". Both are the same shape and one cannot always go by size!

The Saint Bede Studio said...

A disappointing post, Father.

wretchedwithhope said...

"What is the collective noun for a group of Popes?" Poppets? Trouble is if a pope's ability to act with sovereignty are so diminished that he is in resignation while supposedly reigning...would it not be better to have poppets in the garden rather than on the throne?

RE: Any other robots out there?
i take just guess half the time - seems to work.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I don't have any control over the anti-robot words, they are done by blogspot.

Sorry!

vicky said...

I think people maybe underestimate the power of modern medicine in keeping someone alive despite suffering from some serious disease. This would most certainly not have happened in the 19th century let alone the 15th century or earlier and so puts modern Popes in a completely different situation. The Holy Father could in real terms continue to live as a frail old man for quite some time. I think if he did so as Bishop of Rome it would harm the Church substantially. His suffering is made more acute I would imagine in his having to resign. While Blessed Pope John Paul suffered physically our sweet Benedict' suffering has been to be the receptacle for much of the hate directed against the Church. God bless him always.

Nicolas Bellord said...

A pipe of Popes?

MartinT said...

I agree (as I usually do) but bishops and cardinals do retire from office. Perhaps we should just expect a pope to retire at say 85, just as cardinals can no longer vote at 80?

Et Expecto said...

One thing that has come to light since Pope Benedict announced his resignation is that he is fitted with a pacemaker, and I presume he has had this device since he had a heart attack, long before he became Pope. Apparently one of the things that influenced him in his decision was the recent need for an operation to fit a new battery to the device.

The duties of a Pope are arduous, and it is quite right for the sake of the Church as well as for personal reasons that Benedict has felt free to relieve himself of this burden.

francis said...

The other Francis says: "If Blessed John Paul had abdicated in the mid-1990s … we would have had 10 years more of Benedict XVI." But would we? Was the College of Cardinals really ready for such a step? It came as a surprise even in 2005. With ten years' less evidence of the problems inherent in the post-Conciliar model of the Church, and ten years' less wise and unobtrusive stewardship by Cardinal Ratzinger over that period, we might now be barely half-way through a pontificate of a very different stamp.

I'm prepared to trust that this has all been, and continues to be, guided by the Holy Spirit so as to banish the "smoke of Satan" from the Church.

RJ said...

Further to my earlier post: I don't like the idea of the Pope being 'removable' - that is probably a step too far - there could be illicit pressure - including by secular powers - and disputes.

However, I note from the Catholic Herald that canon law does allow for papal abdication.

What Jackie posted (from the Catholic Encyclopedia) about the absence of a sacramental character to a papal election is important.

JARay said...

I should have said a Papallion of Popes not a Papillion of Popes

fieldofdreams2010 said...

The current law of the Church is that bishops are required to offer their resignation to the Pope when they reach a certain age, but the Pope is not obliged to accept it. This is quite different from marriage- couples are not required to file for divorce after so many years. Sacramentally, priests are priests for ever- but the jurisdiction of bishops is limited in both time and place. By law, the Pope can resign just like any other bishop, though the procedure is necessarily slightly different. A theology of episcopacy not rooted in the actual practice of the Church is suspect.

Fr Ray Blake said...

A theology not rooted in Tradition is more than suspect - it is heresy !!!!!

But I have already stated that I am talking about one strand of Tradition here, the is as I say at the beginning, "both and" not "either or", as others, including the Pope, have pointed out St Celestine resigned.

epsilon said...

Hear, hear!! Perfectly said , David!