Thursday, March 21, 2013

Larger than life Popes?

"Woe to you when all men speak well of you for their fathers used to treat the false prophets". Lk 6:26

I can't help being a little uncomfortable with the popular media's perception of Pope Francis, I can't help wondering: how long before the bubble bursts. And I can't help reflecting on the almost visceral hatred of Pope Benedict from the very beginning, and that the media seems to use Francis as stick with which to beat Benedict.

I was shopping today and met one of our Argentinian parishioners from Beunos Aires and thought I would congratulate him on Pope Francis' election. His English isn't very good but he left me in no doubt that his feelings towards the Pope were entirely negative, it seemed to be about his involvement with Junta when he was the Jesuit Superior. He is hardly a raging Liberal so I can't think that even in his youth he was involved in Liberation theology.

I am impressed that the Pope seems at ease with people, rather like an avuncular parish priest. That he speaks readily about Jesus, which one might expect from a Pope but he does it simply like an avuncular parish priest. I am concerned that he is so old, that he has only one lung, that so far he seems to do everything himself. What he seems good at, so far, is handling the media, or at least, as I say, it is sympathetic to him but he seems to have knack of leaving them following a little confused in his wake.

What I fear for him is the macchina romana, I can't help but think that one of the causes of JPI's early  death was simply the deluge of documents from the various dicasteries that piled up on his desk. He of course was the other smiling Pope, with the common touch, who was going to do something about the Curia. Was it factions in the Curia that Benedict referred to as the "wolves"? When the foreign dignitaries and Cardinal Electors have gone home, I imagine the Apostolic is a pretty bleak place.

Francis has hit the trail running but there must be questions about how long he can run for, already he has difficulty with walking and genuflecting, it will not be long before he needs that moving platform to get up the nave of St Peter's.

Some have suggested we have gone back to the early days of JPII. In many days we have. We have a Pope who is an unknown quantity. No-one knows quite what he will do, or say, or in which direction he will take the Church. It really does seem to be modern phenomena that the whole momentum of the Church depends on the suffrage of one man. The ancient checks and balances have disappeared and in their place is a total monarchy dependant only on the good will or personal holiness of an individual.

Pope Benedict with his careful restoration of a rather curtailed set of papal haberdashery, attempted through signs and symbols to underline the continuation of the Papacy, not just its past but more importantly its future. He tried to deliver it from being a feudal fiefdom based on the personal superstar qualities of an individual Pope to something dependant on Tradition. The red shoes laughed off by many and so easily discarded by Francis, are an obvious sign that successive Popes walk in the same bloody footsteps of Christ and his martyrs. None of those signs are important but they are an alternative to sheer personal charisma.

The Office is important not the Office holder. Benedict's vision seemed to be that the Papacy should be able to contain a Celestine V, a Gregory or Leo the Great, or even God forbid a Borgia or Rovera. John Paul by virtue of his extraordinary personality remade the Papacy in his image and likeness and shifted the Church to an Ultramontane extreme, making it almost impossible for someone even his close ally to take his place.

Refashioning the Papacy with every Pope, leaves the Church lurching from one direction to another every ten or so years, it is hardly healthy state for the Church. Before the media age it was the tiara, which was the symbol of Papal power, it was important, not the wearer. Outside of the City even the Pope's name was of  little significance. A new Pope was just a change of feet in the same fisherman's shoes.

Larger than life Popes are indeed a product of the media age, of worldliness, not of good theology. Pius XII watching films of the wartime dictators and then practising his own gestures in a mirror seems to be be the very antithesis of what the Papacy is about. The same with Paul VI intensely emotional knee jerk style; changing the liturgy so dramatically on his own initiative, or falling to the ground to kiss the feet of Patriarch Athanagoras, is as absurd as JPII's globetrotting.turning the role of Pope into type of universal bishop, far beyond the most extreme imaginings of the most extreme of the Fathers of Vatican I.

If I have one prayer for the Papacy of Francis the First is that it has eye for the future, that Francis leaves the papacy fit for a Pope that is quite different to himself. Whether any future Pope wears the tiara or not, I don't care but what I really fear is that we will have a Papacy that is founded entirely on the personality of an individual, rather than the authority Christ has given it. I want a Papacy founded on rock not sand, that has substance in itself and is not dependant on the individual who fulfills the position for a brief few years.


Amfortas said...

I think many of us are a little disoriented at present. I've been re-reading books by the Pope Emeritus. I hope this isn't a sign of nostalgia but I am struck by his clear vision, his intellect and his pastoral depth.

Physiocrat said...

Personally I miss Pope Benedict. There is much unfinished work, as was always the case. In Pope Francis we have an unknown quantity. We are expected to believe that the Holy Spirit knows what He is doing.

Nuff said.


In relation to "I can't help wondering: how long before the bubble bursts"

Well it will probably not be long. On the EWTN 15 minute special that is now doing the rounds, Cardinal Bergoglio called pet ownership idolatrous and spoke of the narcissism of wearing cosmetics. He catogorised both as paganism.

He then spoke of the problem of pelagianism which will upset the liberals but, will please traditionalists and those who are orthodox (the fact that he has publicly recognised this may calm some nerves).

I've put it on the blog if you haven't seen it.

Delia said...

I do so agree, Father. I also have to admit to some sour grapes at the general euphoria, though of course our new Holy Father has many fine qualities and it's great that he is touching hearts. But I can't help thinking of Joseph Ratzinger, year in, year out, slogging away at the CDF, reviled and vilified for his pains, then being elected pope just as he was hoping for retirement. In many ways it must have been a total nightmare for him, as you pointed out in your 'Crucifixion of Benedict XVI' post. And now once again he is the target of horrible sniping. But never once did he make a posturing gesture; always he gave the example of selfless and faithful service. I never thought that his model for the Petrine ministry would be supplanted so soon.

Cosmos said...

I agree completely. The Tradition of the Church, as well as her customs, should hem in the Pope a great deal and make all of this much less anxious and/or exciting.

However, the "Fathers" of the Second Vatican Council ended up creating the strong impression that the past was, in many ways, so deeply flawes that a new regime was necessary. They pulled up the anchor, so to speak, and now People watch the Pope to see which way he will steer the ship.

Personally, I think the Church may need some strong personalities in the helm to get it back on track. The fact is almost all credibility has been lost from the institution. This means we are in a position where maintaining the status quo was only going to make things worse.

Still, it's a great risk to put so much in the hands of one man, and it was not meant to be this way. I hope the Holy Spirit leads us through this Pope to a more sure harbor.

As far as pets and cosmetics, it should be noted that the Cardinal did not call either inherently sinful. His point was that we spend so much on non-essentials in a manner which point to values very different than those of Christianity.

Alan said...

A few rather disjointed observations from a sympathetic Anglican onlooker, Father.

Might we not see the general media emphasis on the differences between Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus as an example of the "hermeneutic of rupture"? Almost all of this is facile and some comment is obviously just plain wrong - as in the assertion in many nrwspapers that he has dispensed with a bulletproof Popemobile. (The same open vehicle was used by Pope Benedict, not to mention Ven. Pius XII in his non-bulletproof Sedia Gestatoria!)

The signs of the media turning on Pope Francis are already there. See the column by Brian "I'm a Catholic, but...." Reade in today's Daily Mirror as a case in point. Eventually, it's going to dawn upon them that those benighted cardinals have inexplicably once again elected a Catholic.

So far as Cardinal Bergoglio's conduct in relation to secular politics is concerned, I can only say that so far there has been no smoking gun to indicate anything more than the sort of careful footwork that a prelate needs to use in protecting his flock from a nasty regime. Cardinal Wojtila had to do it and so - in spades - did Cardinal Graf von Faulhaber. I am much more concerned with some of lamguage used on some transatlantic blogs about opponents of the junta who have indicated that they would have wished the Holy Father to have been more upfront.

Celia said...

Interesting and useful post. I particularly liked the clear explanation of what Pope Benedict was trying to achieve with the vestments he used.I have become heartily sick of hearing that Pope Francis has done something 'simple' or 'humble' 'in marked contrast to his predecessor' (BBC ad nauseam).

What you say about papal 'personalities' is right and while the rot may have set in as long as Pius XII's reign I can recall that in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up we invariably referred to 'the pope', not 'Pius' or 'John'. It was, I think, more clearly understood that the office, not the man,was what counted.

fidelisjoff said...

It is very hard to comment on a living pope or even a recent popoe without managing a disservice. I matured under JPII and he still appears to me as a spiritual giant with the gift of connecting with all types of people. I remember reading the best popes are this that are the best diocesan bishops. They renewed their diocese, vocations rose and they were loved. I do have mixed feelings about Francis. He seems so low brow, unattractive to the intellectuals but perhaps we need this for a short time. If his health fails radically it would be difficult to resign with Benedict XVI still alive.

confused said...

Thanks Father. I really needed to read that.


JARay said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you Father. I grew up under Pius XII and to us he was simply "the pope".
I remember the thrill of visiting Rome during Holy Year of 1950 when I went with my brother and over a thousand Boy Scouts from England and Wales. Our first visit outside of England and the War was of recent memory. The pope was a mystically distant person, a prisoner of the Vatican.
I will wait and see just how Pope Francis turns out. I have read most of the comments on Rorate Caeli and of course I am seeing the swooning of the present media.
I have my suspicions but will withold judgement.

Greg Collins said...

A Pope preaches chastity the world recoils whilst we, in the Church, are overjoyed.

A Pope preaches obedience the world cries "No, freedom!" whilst we rejoice.

A Pope preaches poverty the world is overjoyed and some of us appear very afraid.

The first two I understand. The last one baffles me.

Greg Collins said...

In other news; George Monbiot has stuck in the knife and begun to turn it. I won't link to it but you can google if you want.

Under the Junta I'm certain every Christian, and person of good will, would have been brave, and courageous, and would have actively opposed them. Of course they would George, of course they would.

Pope Francis has been gifted to the Church, and the world, for a reason and that reason is part of God's plan. We may not understand that plan. We may not even want that plan if it does not further our personal agendas or hinder our views of how things ought to be.

We must watch, wait and try to discern, through prayer what Pope Francis' papacy is to mean to each of us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father, for your thoughts. I have been very troubled since the election of Papa Francesco and news does not seem to improve as the days go by.

It seems to me that, just as we all have a 'superior' or someone to whom we owe obedience, the Pope must also have to enact "obedience" for his own spiritual good and for that of the Church. But to whom can a Pope be obedient? Only, of course, to Tradition (by which I mean orthodoxy in the broadest sense including worship, faith and morals), expressed in the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and in the magisterium of his predecessors. This is what Pope Benedict expressed so beautifully; the Pope is not his own master, and he only guarantees his fidelity to Jesus by his fidelity to the Apostolic faith, expressed in the Church from the earliest times. Without this, we become locked into a cyclical argument whereby the Pope is orthodox because he says so, and anything he says or does is orthodox because he says or does it. Surely that is not only heterodox, but also very dangerous.

Physiocrat said...

How about waiting, watching and praying and refraining from comment, inwardly or outwardly? As I said earlier, the Holy Spirit knows what he is doing here.

Parate Viam Domini said...

Well it seems like a decade since last Wednesday's news from Rome but catching-up with some reading and in one of the Sunday papers I found this excitable quote from some ditzy ‘Rome Correspondent’:

“…..Yet there is a genuine air of hopefulness around St Peter’s Square. One Vaticanista, as the Vatican watchers and correspondents are called, said: ‘Francis is a breath of fresh air. He’s said more in 15 minutes than Benedict did in eight years. Everything about this guy is different – it’s like a whole new world. He’s the real deal.’……”

I beg your pardon Mr/Mrs/Ms/Rvd. Vaticanista? What utter tripe!

They obviously haven’t read our beloved Pope Emeritus’ books on Jesus of Nazareth or his three beautiful encyclicals. Why, because they were probably too busy worrying about his red shoes and his designer sunglasses!

I would be interested to know if the said quoted person/people (either real or very possibly imaginary) owns a pair of good ‘decent’ shoes or a pair of decent sunglasses?.

The wheels have well and truly fallen of the media bandwagon!

Colonel Mustard said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post, Father.

I suspect, in hundreds of years, Pope Benedict will be remembered over and above most of the popes from our times. Short, sweet papacies tend to be the best, and his prolific writings will be numbered amongst the tomes of the Fathers and Doctors, I'm sure!

George said...

I can't help thinking of another Jesuit I know who said with all sincerity that he felt in competition at times with the tabernacle.

Rachel M. Gohlman said...

I agree with you. All of this is making me feel quite uneasy.

nickbris said...

I've seen several Popes come and go but was never involved in a discussion on whether I approved or not.

It now seems that every Tom Dick or Harry has something to say;we are supposed to be obedient and trust our leaders

Frederick Jones said...

Joseph Ratzinger will be remembered in future times for his writings regardless of the fact that he was a Pope.

Chloe said...

Please read this post Much of what is being said about Pope Francis is twaddle. Also, who the heck are we to judge him? Everything he says and does will be distorted sometimes deliberately by the media, sometimes by accident from those of US who read the wrong things. For Heaven's sake give the man a break! He's been Pope for 10 minutes!

Nicolas Bellord said...

I think everyone needs to calm down about the new Pope - it is much too early to comment.

Now back home. I suppose it was only polite for Archbishop Nichols to be present at the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury but what about Nichols actually participating in the service by reading the second reading? I find this difficult. It is still a usurpation of the see of Canterbury by a schismatic ecclesial community and it hardly seems appropriate for a Catholic Archbishop to join in. What next? Concelabration? Laying on of hands?

gemoftheocean said...

I'm actually all for the globe trotting from time to time. Because it underscores the fact that the pope IS the head bishop for all Catholics, everywhere. And if in your own diocese you have a "dud" - at least that "dud" has a boss who can reassign him to Patagonia or deepest darkest Africa - with some hope that said "dud" will be thrown in a crock pot or crocodile infested waters. Whichever comes first. [Roger Mahoney, please pick up the courtesy yellow and white phone.]

As for Pope Francis. I am still holding out on the Red Shoes. A thing like that would have to be custom made - so it's not like there's an assembly line for them all set to crank out hundreds.

I am adopting a "wait and see" attitude. Some things I've heard, I've not liked. Positives on other things.

My theory about JPI is that God saw that and said "NO, I want the young Polish cardinal - because Ronaldus Magnus will soon head the USA and between the two of them the eastern block can be free of Godless Communism."

gemoftheocean said...

"I've seen several Popes come and go but was never involved in a discussion on whether I approved or not." == That's 'cuz you had probably stepped outside to light up a ciggie.

Cosmos said...


The reality is, as much as I hate to say it, people don't trust the Catholic hierarchy anymore. The scandal was incredibly damaging on that level. It's a real conundrum, but I think the Church's leaders will have to re-earn obedeince and trust. They will not be able to demand it anymore.

Further, I think it is increasingly difficult for people from democratic societies to think in terms of obedience to particular men. It strikes us all as quite a medieval farse, for better or worse, to treat those in positions of power with reverence. We are even encouraged to rebel against our parents! People refuse to treat the bishops as special for the same reason they are appluading the Pope for wearing black shoes and wading out into the crowd: they just don't think they are special. A bishop can't have it both ways: he can't pretend to be a modern man of the people, speaking thier language, and walking in their shoes, and then demand fealty like an aristocrat.

For the more educated, the history of the Church confirms that there have been so many evil and looney bishops that it can be extremely difficult to talk about God's will in that context. These kind of people obey, but seem to reserve trust for those who earn it through their actions.

The storm is not over yet!

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Someone stated and to whom does the Pope answer? In Orthodoxy he would have to answer to the Church for his statements and actions. That is why the nature of the Papal office is the most thorny of the issues that divide the 2 churches. Both churches have our unique set of problems to be face individually and can only be done so with respect to ongoing tradition and the consensus of Faith. Sometimes the Pope or patriarch is his own worst enemy. When he is conscious of it then something God happens for the Lord and for His People.

Jacqueline Y. said...

Father, please read Inside the Vatican's editor Robert Moynihan's Letter #56 "Holding to Benedict". You might find it heartening, as I did.

NBW said...

Thank you for the post Father. It is very insightful. I miss our Pope Emeritus.

Amfortas said...

So Gem, God arranged for JPI to forget his medication and die so that we could have JPII. Are you trying to be offensive or are you simply labouring under some sort of misguided, crypto-Islamic ('everything is the will of God') metaphysics?

Carlos Echevarria said...

Great post, Father! I concur with you 100% regarding Bergoglio and your broader analysis about the office of the Papacy, the beloved See of the Apostle, St. Peter.

I miss Papa Ratzinger so much...Cardinal Scola, would have been, infinitely, better than what we presently have.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not criticising the Pope, I am suggesting that the media presentation is fickle, I am not quite sure he respects quite what Benedict was trying to do. Some of that might wrell be cultural.

I think the wise should wait and see, Benedict kept calling for us to live more simply, and encoraged us to live more simply - I suspect we might well see a theologian and thinker being replaced by a preacher and a pastor.

Pray, do penance and wait in certain hope.

Maureen said...

I've been missing Pope Benedict as well - I have just bought all three of the Jesus books before they go out of print.
And I think the Red Shoes are actually important, it doesn't do to throw tradition away; as you say, thereby making the Papacy all about the incumbent, diminishing the office.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

there shouldn't be a 'peoples pope', like a 'peoples princess' - it turns the concept of sovereignty on its head. Apparently Pius XII was the first pope to suddenly mess with the liturgy - apparently the oldest part of the Latin rite; he was the first to allow the 'demons' of the vernacular to replace the Liturgical, and therefore, sacred language. Collapsing the ladder that leads to us heaven and upon which the angels ascend and descend, what good does it do? Leaves us trapped in the banality of a liturgy that teaches that the kingdom of heaven is found in a rubbish dump. Shouldn't the Papacy show forth an unshakeable alliegance to God Almighty because God is unshakably devoted to Her mission? why is the new mind of the church so unlike the old mind? But we are taught now to stand with a new mind that has more to do with the group minds of revolutions, protestant, french, communist, sexual; than the historical mind of the Church thought to be one with the mind of the God of unique revelation. The God of Israel who became Immanuel. The Jews have a saying transliterated Gam-Zu-L'tovah - this too is for the good - no matter what happens, it reaffirms their alliegiance to their God, their utter loyalty to the Hand of God, even when things seem have been handed over to the enemy. When bishops and priests seem determined that a priest should be a social worker, a compaartive religionist, a passionate politician (Pius IX once wrote that all civil discord is the cause and effect of political passions), an everyman, pretty much anything but a creature of the liturgy - I find it difficult to pray - this too is for the good. "orthodoxy sees human beings above all else as liturgical creatures who are most truly themselves when they glorify God, and who find their perfection and fulfillment in the dark days of the mongols, the turks, or the communists it is to the Holy Liturgy that the Orthodox people have always turned for inspiration and new hope; nor have they turned in vain." Timothy Ware, 'The Orthodox Church'.

Amfortas said...

Be quick Maureen. Some of Benedict's books are being withdrawn by Amazon in the Uk and the US.

Katie said...

Thank you for your wise words, Father

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

some echoes from the Ghost of Christamses past:

"After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy." Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "The Spirit of the Liturgy."

"to this day, the Roman Canon of the Mass commemorates these ancient popes and martyrs, successors of Peter, when it refers to “Linus, Cletus, Clement. . .” K. Whitehead, "One Holy Catholic And Apostolic." (hopefully more popes of the future will return the compliment).

"To justify a claim to the name of Christian it is not enough that we should regard Jesus Christ in the same light as John the Baptist, or Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the prophets, or even as a prophet greater than all other prophets. Nor is it enough to profess a devotion to Jesus Christ without having any clear idea as to who He is, on the grounds that this is something incomprehensible." Mgr. M. Besson, Bishop of Lausanne-Geneva-Fribourg.

Q. Why does God allow us to be tempted? A. God allows us to be tempted so as to test our fidelity, increase our virtue, and augment our merits. "Catholic Catechism of Saint Pius X" (1908)

"The Holy Mass itself, with its prayers, and ceremonies, comes down to us from the earliest times as the grand and solemn liturgy in which the Popes have enshrined the Holy Sacrifice. And today, as ever, they gather the people around the altar to offer to God the tribute of their adoration and thanks, and to receive Him, under a sacramental form, as the food of of their souls." Most Rev E. T. O’Dwyer, D.D., late Bishop of Limerick, 'The Catholic Church: The Principle And Sources Of Its Indefectible Life.'

Anonymous said...

'' Eventually, it's going to dawn upon them that those benighted cardinals have inexplicably once again elected a Catholic''

Very amusing!
A sage post, Father

Unknown said...

I think Pope Francis is a wonderful choice.

I want Pope Francis to be daring. I want him to challenge me to live the Gospel. I want him to show me how!

I understand about the symbolism of red shoes and tiara, but without wishing to be rude, to a working class man they sound effeminate and vain.

Macchina romana – not one I have yet hired from Hertz!

Katalina said...

No, the red shoes a Pope usually wears are not a sign of "Vanity" or being "effeminate" They are a sign of a willingness to be willing to suffer Martyrdom for the Faith if it is needed. I can't believe a lot of the stupid and ignorant responses, I see on these kinds of sites. As far a Amazon no longer selling the Pope Emeritus Books, if that is the case than go to "Ignatius Press" web site they are know as Benedict's publisher

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...