Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Geriatric Pope

I thought this was a rather sad picture, it appeared in a German paper, presumably it was taken by a Vatican insider. I presumed that had Benedict remained in office he would have become disabled more quickly. I find it sad that a Pope can't grow old and infirmed in private but still remain Pope.

Being Pope should be something that someone in their nineties could do. It is the modern era that demands a physically able Pope. I rather like to think that the old  Sedia Gestatoria was really a disability aid for ancient decrepit geriatric pontiffs and those monsignori surrounding the Pope were really care assistants enabling him to walk with failing limbs and to read with failing eye-sight. It is worth remembering that one of those monsignori historically had the honour of carrying and assisting at the papal commode.

I have a recollection of the diary of a young Englishman visiting the Vatican in the reign of Pius IX or perhaps Leo and he gives the impression that the Papal Court smelt rather like a nursing home, he speaks of Cardinals with prostate problems.

The principle of subsidiarity - that a higher authority should not do what a lesser authority can do more effectively - was very much part of my post-VII theological formation. I, like many, had hoped that this Papacy would be 'smaller', that the Pope would be more like a bank manager than a superstar. The objection some might have is that Vatican I defined that the Pope has 'Ordinary, Immediate, and Episcopal jurisdiction' everywhere in the Church - the good Fr Hunwicke has something to say on this.

Perhaps this Papacy, working on the Italian, 'fat Pope, thin Pope', principle will lead the Cardinal Electors next time round to ask quite what a Pope is for. He is not the Church's media representative, he is certainly not the setter of theological trends that Catholic neo-Cons used to want to the point that theology changes with each Pope, he is not an innovator who can take the Church back to Year Zero, dismissing 2,000 years of the Church's history, which is what Liberals seem to suggest he should be. What he, is the centre of communion, ultimately he is the judge of who is communion with the Church, in that he sets the limits - de-finition - of her Communion.

Benedict's resignation separated the Office from the man, Francis seems to be trying to identify himself more as the Bishop of Rome and rather sparingly speaks of himself as 'Pope'. The media clamour for a big Papacy of dynamic gestures but the trend amongst theologians is to shave it down, on the principle that less is more.


Pelerin said...

Very sad to see indeed and am I right in thinking that it is Pope Benedict's brother, Georg, sitting there also with a zimmer frame? How sad that they have both reached that stage at the same time when it does not seem that long ago when we saw pictures of the two brothers walking together in the Vatican gardens.

Liam Ronan said...

It is an odd situation indeed with the 'old' Pope Emeritus and the 'Bishop of Rome'.
I wished Pope Benedict XVI had 'toughed it out' to the end.

There was an interesting article posted on Rorate Caeli just a few days ago outlining the insights of Vittorio Messori and Antonio Socci in respect of the Pope Emeritus and the Bishop of Rome:

"Two Popes": Has the Papacy become a Diarchy? Messori enters into the picture, Socci stands his ground and questions" Special double-article post.

If I remember my Gospel, the 'Rock' (singular) was Peter though perhaps in these days of show-biz theology it is possible to have 'Rockettes' (apologies to NY City Music Hall).

It's all so very confusing.

Damask Rose said...

"I rather like to think that the old Sedia Gestatoria was really a disability aid for ancient decrepit geriatric pontiffs and those monsignori surrounding the Pope were really care assistants enabling him to walk with failing limbs and to read with failing eye-sight."

I think you're right, Fr Ray. And the 'Black Nobility' would walk alongside the Sedia and protect him. The absence of these things allowed for Benedict to be pulled down by that woman.

For a long time now, people have been shoving their elderly into care homes instead of looking after them where this, of course, is possible and it seems as though the Papacy has followed suit. It can't be good. Sometimes it's as though my heart stops when I think what Paul VI did to the Church.

I sometimes like to reflect, that if it came to it, Abp Ganswein would have carried Papa Benedict into St Peters or the Vatican Balcony if he had to. God bless them both.

Jacobi said...

We all now will have to come to terms with the ubiquitous camera, whether US prisoner in Afghanistan (tonight’s news) or the Pope Emeritus out for a stroll.

Benedict’s resignation leaves an uneasy feeling. He may be ailing, but so are many “elderlies” who soldier on. Any acute medical condition should have been revealed.

What is important is mental ability, not the ease with which aircraft stairs can be handled for the Camera. Procedures can be devised to cope with physical immobility. In this era of universal visual communication, there is less need than ever for physical travel.

The Pope is the Successor of Peter, the Keeper of the Keys. Resignation risks reducing him to a manager.

Whatever the pressure was on Benedict it was nothing compared to that on say Julius II or Clement VII – and there is always Castel Sant’Angelo as a refuge from the camera.

Celia said...

'Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some aches and pains and a few limitations...the prayers of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety'. (Benedict XVI, November 2012- when he had already made up his mind to abdicate).
I can't say I found it such a sad picture: we all come to it and unlike many elderly people in the West the pope emeritus is not warehoused in some awful geriatric facility or living alone in squalor waiting for his daily 15-minute visit from a 'carer'.By all accounts his mind remains active which is what really matters.
I think his decision to stand down was influenced very much by his experience of John Paul II's reign, both the hyperactivity, which even JPII couldn't keep up as he aged, but which he had made the norm, and the disputes about influence over and access to the ailing Pope which seem to have characterised the last couple of years of his reign.
I think that the Church has yet to think through the implications of the abdication- the article Liam mentions has some interesting points.
While I would certainly have preferred Benedict to remain Pope I'm happy to think that the prayers of this particular elderly person are offered for the Church daily.

GOR said...

I blame Pope St. John Paul II and, to a certain extent, Pope St. John XXIII... John started with surreptitious trips outside the Vatican walls and John Paul II became the ubiquitous globe-trotting Pope. Paul VI resembled Pius XII in more ways than one.

I’m sure Pope Benedict would have preferred less travel and the public limelight but expectations had been set and he acquiesced. I think he should have saved his energy and, though I regret his retirement, I don’t blame him for retiring.

As to Pope Francis, I think he is beginning to see that there are limitations to his ‘outreach’ and visiting the peripheries. We don’t need a peripatetic Pope, but we do need a stable Papacy. I’m always apprehensive when Popes venture abroad – and relieved when they are back safely in the Vatican.

Unknown said...

indeed, damask Rose, Indeed.

Katalina said...

I don't know why all the amazement or sadness over this picture of the Pope Emeritus this is WHY he resigned last year. He has been having mobility problems for the last few years just recall him being pushed on a moving platform. On top of that he just turned 87 a month and a half ago. My former parish priest is the same age and is in worse shape than Benedict believe me.

JARay said...

Mobility problems are happening to me too, but, so what?! The local convent here has just about every nun requiring one of these zimmer frames and at every Mass there is always a row of these things which have to be put to one side once each nun has actually got to her seat. One nun in particular zips down to the front of the church in her electric machine and I find myself wondering when she is going to hit one hapless individual who wanders across her path!!

Anonymous said...

There is nothing sad about getting old and feeble. Most people live to that stage, thanks be to God. However, the Pope ought not be photographed outside of a public situation. The function of a pope is primarily to preserve the Deposit of Faith, and strengthen his brothers and the Faithful in the Faith. There should be no need to trade in the pope when he gets old and feeble.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Celia is right. Being old does have its compensations! But above all we know that any disabilities are just temporary. Sadness should be reserved for those who do not believe in an after life and see old age as the end - the despair that promotes euthanasia.

John Vasc said...

I don't feel sad. I'm happy our very dear Holy Father Emeritus has good people to take care of him (the main defect of our public sector geriatric wards) and that he has airy sunshine to warm him, music to listen to, and congenial company to stimulate his mind.
More of us will now meet this same fate of protracted physical and (eventually) mental breakdown - the by-product of medical research abolishing or restricting many of the life-shortening diseases of old age.
It seems vital to build up an army of genuinely caring voluntary helpers - perhaps the generation just behind those who are most elderly. The state clearly cannot provide kindhearted and well-motivated carers. There used to be large religious orders dedicated to this edifying work, but these days they seem more interested in attending conferences on New Liturgy and giving seminars on Whither the Deity.

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