RELIGION POLITICS- “As it was in the beginning, it now and ever shall be…” pretty much sums up what most of us know about the history of the Catholic Church; it’s always just sort of been there just like it is.
And priests have always been celibate, so stories about young parishioners being molested have been part of Church history since, well, since forever.
Not so, in fact.
The Roman Catholic Church has changed greatly over its long life, and one of the points that has changed is the issue of celibacy for the Clergy.
Until about the 13th century, celibacy was seen as optional.
In fact, most priests and other officials in the early Church were married. The first 39 Popes, from St. Peter (AD32-AD67) to St. Anastasius I (AD399-AD401), were married. During this time also, women were ordained to the priesthood; but that came to an end in AD494.
It was 13th Century Medieval politics that forced the issue. The Church leadership decided that the best way for it to stay out of the nepotism and succession problems was to have an unmarried clergy that was not involved in the fights.
This might be a good time to explain the difference between priests and clerics. A priest is engaged in a vocation of service, a spiritual calling from God. A cleric occupies an organizational position in the institutional church. A man can be a priest without being a cleric.
When a priest marries, he is dismissed from the clerical state. But he retains the fullness of the priesthood, since he has been ordained to be a priest, not a cleric. Ordination is permanent (Canon 290 in Church law). He can, as the saying goes, “do the marryin’ and the buryin’,” and should properly be referred to as an “ex-cleric”, rather than “ex-priest.”
But the issue of mandatory clerical celibacy has actually created three large problems.
One is, of course, the problem of child abuse by the clergy. Settlements to plaintiffs have exceeded $3 billion in the United States alone (over $600 million just for the Los Angeles Archdiocese), and much more when other countries such as Australia and Ireland are included.
And this, of course, is money that cannot be used to feed the hungry, maintain the schools, or keep churches open.
The second large problem actually causes the first. According to people both inside and outside of the Church, the system itself of recruiting, training, and supporting the priests creates the conditions where the priests become abusers; in many cases, the new priests are abused by the priests training them, who may in their turn have been abused by their priests.
The third large problem created by enforced celibacy rules is a shortage of priests. Thousands of Catholic priests have left their churches when forced to choose between a family and the Church.
This has left parishes without priests and priests without parishes. There are an estimated 20,000 married, ordained Roman Catholic priests in the United States (many thousands more, worldwide) who would be available and pleased to serve a parish again.
Stop-gap efforts like Rent-A-Priest are a help, but not a long-term solution.
Back To The Future?
Granted, solving others’ problems sometimes seems easier than it really is. But the Catholic Church already has the resources in place to resolve two of the three problems cited above; the lawsuits will have to proceed through the courts.
The first resource, perhaps not well enough known, is the Old Catholic Church, sometimes known as the Old Catholic Mission Church. It was formed in the late 19th Century when certain Dutch and German Catholics split with the Roman Catholic Church over doctrines like Papal Infallibility.
Old Catholic priests can marry, and therein may lie some of the answer. Oddly, the once-divisive issue of Papal Infallibility may also hold a key to the solution.
The doctrine of infallibility holds that the Pope speaks without error when he speaks ex cathedra (literally, “from the throne”, that is, officially). Therefore, the whole issue of enforced celibacy could be nullified with a pronouncement and a signature.
Then, if it wished, the Church could return to its roots: make celibacy a personal choice, allow-even encourage-married priests, ordain women again, and bring back Altar Girls.
Until and unless this takes place, Catholics still have the option of attending one of the Old Catholic Churches.
The second resource is Catholics themselves. National polls show that a majority of America’s 60+ million Catholics prefer married clergy, arguing that they can better understand the issues that the parishioners are dealing with. When this many people speak, the Church leadership is likely to listen.
(John MacMurray is a retired La Habra teacher and former Democratic candidate for State Assembly. He blogs at LAProgressive.com where this column was first posted. A must visit. LA’s most important Progressive voice.)
Louisville, Ky. (WDRB) — Pope Benedict XVI gave his final Sunday blessing from his studio window to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s square.
That final Sunday Angelus comes with a new controversy that is rocking the Vatican. Italian media reports the reason the Pope is stepping down is because he learned about a network of gay priests at the Vatican and the church is being blackmailed. The same reports also suggest the Vatican is involved in stealing money.
According to one Italian newspaper, these are the findings of a secret investigation by three cardinals assigned to look into wrongdoing at the Vatican. They were submitted to Pope Benedict in December.
The Vatican is blasting the media for what it says are false and defamatory news reports ahead of the conclave to elect Pope Benedict’s successor.
Amid all the controversy, Catholic parishioners in Louisville are reacting to the pope’s exit. Some explained the direction they think the church should take. Many called it a bittersweet holy day as Pope Benedict delivers his final Sunday prayer this morning.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics says he no longer has strength of mind and body to carry on, so his last day will be Feb. 28. At least a hundred thousand people came to hear Pope XVI’s final Sunday Prayer at the Vatican. His exit comes after eight years of dominating the priest’s abuse scandals and his efforts to counteract rising secularism in the West. Local Catholic parishioners seemed saddened to hear about recent reports and rumors circulating, but had nothing but good things to say about Pope Benedict’s leadership. Members commend him for his services and say they realize the time has come.
“I am pleased with his service as a pope,” said parishioner Fran Welsh.
“I am obviously a little sad and dismayed with all that’s gone but nonetheless I think he has made enormous contributions to the church and to the world in total.”
Other members of the parish echoed the same sentiment toward the resignation.
“I think he has done a good job,” said parishioner Dennis Wiggins.
“He is not feeling well and it is time to step down.”
The process of electing a new pope belongs to the Cardinals. Around 120 under the age of 80 are eligible to enter the secretive conclave to elect Pope Benedict’s successor.
Church rules say the conclave has to start between 15-20 days after the papacy becomes vacant in just four days.
Benedict is the second pope to resign of his own free will in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church. He is the first to do so since the Middle Ages.
Some troubling news about the possible reasons behind Pope Benedict’s resignation is breaking in Italy. Look for my report in a special edition of this newsletter this weekend.
I wasn’t trying to string readers along; I was still trying to make sense of the story published in the major Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica on Thursday, February 21. Too many things didn’t add up—and, frankly, I didn’t want them to add up.
By now, you have probably read a version of the story: In April 2012, Pope Benedict XVI had commissioned three cardinals, all over the age of 80 (an important detail, because it means that none would be able to vote in a future papal conclave), to prepare a report on the state of the Holy See. The cardinals presented the report to the Holy Father on December 17, 2012. There is only one copy, and it is in the possession of Pope Benedict.
Those are the facts that have been verified by the Press Office of the Holy See. But the La Repubblica story goes much further, making claims about the way in which the investigation was conducted, the contents of the report, and—most explosively—the role that the report may have had in convincing Pope Benedict to resign the papacy.
I first became aware of the report on Thursday morning, when I received the daily bulletin from the Vatican Information Service. Under the headline “Pope’s Final Activities, Possibility of a Motu Proprio, Relationship With the Society of St. Pius X,” the final paragraph read:
In conclusion, [Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office] confirmed that the Commission of Cardinals (Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi) set up by the Holy Father to prepare a report on the Holy See has made its results known exclusively to the Pope. The cardinals will not grant interviews or otherwise comment on the results.
The paragraph seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the story, and I immediately suspected that Father Lombardi was responding to a story in the Italian press. Later that day, my suspicion was confirmed with I received the February 21, 2013, installment of “The Moynihan Letters,” an occasional newsletter sent out by Robert Moynihan, the founder and editor-in-chief of Inside the Vatican.
The title of this newsletter was “Blackmail,” and the introduction was nothing short of horrifying:
Today a veil of secrecy was shredded in this eternal city.
Today therefore marked the beginning of a difficult, important struggle for the purification of the government of the Church desired for so many years by Joseph Ratzinger.
We were given a glimpse today into some of the reasons, previously unknown, that prompted Pope Benedict XVI to announce his resignation on February 11, to take effect February 28, in seven days, reasons that apparently “overwhelmed his spirit within him” and “made his heart desolate.”
It is a story that in many ways seems the plot of a novel.
It is a story of blackmail and betrayal at the highest levels of the Church, and, allegedly, of a homosexual lobby organized within the Vatican to influence and obtain important decisions.
Rob Moynihan is a sensible fellow who has spent much of his life as a reporter and editor for Catholic publications in Rome. For him to write such lines, with very few qualifications (just one “apparently” and one “allegedly”) indicated that the story was serious and, just as importantly, one that he apparently believed.
What was that story? According to La Repubblica, in the wake of the “Vatileaks” affair, the commission of the three cardinals was given unprecedented authority to conduct an investigation of the papal court, the Curia. They were even allowed to interview fellow cardinals.
In the course of the investigation, La Repubblica claims, the cardinals discovered certain patterns that indicated the existence of a homosexual lobby within the Curia, whose members “are being subjected to ‘external influence’—we would say blackmail—from laypeople to whom they are linked by ties of a ‘worldly nature.’” These allegations of homosexual activity, as well as claims of financial impropriety, La Repubblica claims, are documented in the report, which ran to 300 pages. Pope Benedict, the newspaper says, had been considering resigning the papacy; upon receiving the report, he made up his mind to do just that.
Horrifying revelations, if true; and Rob Moynihan seemed to believe them to be. Still, something bothered me. Why wasn’t this story being picked up by the left-wing newspapers in the United States? Moynihan’s newsletter had come out Thursday night (I received it at 5:46 P.M. CST), which meant that the La Repubblica story had been out for 20 hours or more. Yet the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times—all were silent. Surely none of them had decided to give the Catholic Church a break for a change.
On the other hand, how would they cover the story? Obviously, for Catholics who are faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church, allegations of a significant homosexual lobby within the Curia are devastating. But for the New York Times, significant homosexual influence within the Church would most likely be a cause for celebration.
And that got me thinking: Among Italian dailies, La Repubblica is closer in substance to the New York Times and the Washington Post. (Moynihan describes it as “center-left” and “secular humanist.”) How, exactly, was it that someone who had seen the commission’s report to Pope Benedict chose to leak its contents to the New York Times of Italy? Presumably, the purpose of the leak would be to influence in some way the coming papal conclave; but anyone who was on the side of the alleged homosexual lobby would want to keep this information out of the public eye. Those who would stand to gain by its release would be more “conservative” elements in the Church. But surely, then, going to La Repubblica wouldn’t make much sense. Why not, for instance, leak the information to a respected conservative Vaticanist such as Sandro Magister?
And so, on Friday morning, as I was putting the finishing touches on my newsletter, I didn’t know what to do. The story was out there, and it was now making its way into English-language publications (primarily in the United Kingdom); but something smelled fishy. I decided to wait a little longer before covering it; thus my note in the newsletter.
I’m glad I did. Late Friday night CST (early Saturday morning, Rome time), Rob Moynihan sent out another newsletter, this time entitled “Stop.” He had come at it from a different direction than I had—he has more contacts in Rome, after all—but in the first part of the new newsletter, it seemed that he had come to similar conclusions. There was little reason, he decided, to believe that anything in the article was better than “second-hand information,” and he pointed to one assertion—the claim of one final public audience for Pope Benedict on February 28—that simply cannot be true.
And yet, at the end of the newsletter, Moynihan offers four reasons why, despite all of this, he had given any credibility to the La Repubblica article. I won’t go over them here; you can read them for yourself in the newsletter, which is online.
I’d like to offer another reason, though, why he might have been willing to believe the worst, because (I suspect) it’s the reason why I was willing to believe the worst: We don’t want to see Pope Benedict go.
It’s as simple as that. We’re fearful for the future. After the death of Pope John Paul II, we didn’t know what to expect. The Church has been under siege by the modern world not just for decades now, but for centuries. And, at times, too many high-ranking prelates have seemed willing to follow the winds of change, rather than to hold tight to the Cross.
On April 19, 2005, when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected the 265th pope, I felt relieved, as if the Church had dodged a bullet. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rob Moynihan felt the same way, too. And now, in the wake of Pope Benedict’s decision to resign, it feels as if we didn’t necessarily dodge the bullet; it’s just taken its sweet time in coming.
But that is the wrong way to look at the upcoming papal conclave, and at the history of the Church in general. Either the Catholic Church is what we profess it to be—a divine institution, founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, even as it is made up of all-too-fallible human beings—or it isn’t. There’s no in-between.
If the Church is what Rob Moynihan and I—and every faithful Catholic out there—profess it to be, then we don’t need to worry about dodging a bullet. Indeed, such worries are a sign that our faith is not as strong as it should be. The Holy Spirit is in charge, and Christ Himself promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church that He founded on the rock of Peter’s faith.
I strongly suspect now that the La Repubblica article is, as the Vatican Secretariat of State declared on Saturday, one in a series of “unverified, unverifiable, or even completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions” designed “to influence the election of the Pope . . . through public opinion, which is often based on judgements that do not capture the typically spiritual aspect of this moment that the Church is living.”
Even if, however, there is some truth in the La Repubblica article, we do not need to worry, because the fate of the Church rests not in the reports of an Italian newspaper or in the weight of public opinion but in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So, for anyone whom I may have upset with my words at the beginning of Friday’s newsletter, let me offer my sincere apology. Mea culpa; mea culpa; mea maxima culpa.
And let me end with the final paragraph of the Saturday communique from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which sums up the situation better than I ever could:
Never before as at this moment are Catholics focusing on what is essential: praying for Pope Benedict, praying that the Holy Spirit might enlighten the College of Cardinals, and praying for the future Pope, confident that the future of the barque of Peter is in God’s hands.
Organist and harpsichordist Kenneth Hamrick is part of the ensemble. Advance File Photo
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Music at Saint Alban’s announced that baritone Mark Duer and the American Virtuosi Baroque Ensemble will perform “A Baroque Celebration — works of J.S. Bach” on March 3 at the Eltingville church.
The 3:30 p.m. concert will include the ensemble made up of William Thauer on oboe, Jane Chung on violin, Andrew Trombley on contrabass and Kenneth Hamrick on organ and harpsichord. A reception in the church’s upper parish hall will follow the concert.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for senior citizens and students and may be purchased by calling 718-984-7756 or by visiting MusicatSaintAlbans.org.
Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church is located at 76 Saint Alban’s Place.
A limited number of tickets will go on sale Monday for the Annual Easter Egg Hunts at New Dorp Moravian Church.
The hunts, sponsored by the New Dorp Moravian Sunday School for children ages 1 to 10, will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on March 30. Participants should bring a basket and a box of cookies to share. Hunts take place rain or shine.
The number of tickets available for each hunt is 125 and the cost is $5 in cash per child. Tickets must be purchased in advance Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church office, 2205 Richmond Rd., on the grounds of Moravian Cemetery.
For additional information, call the office at 718-351-0090 or visit the web site Newdorpmoravian.org.
Trained trauma specialists are offering free therapy for Sandy victims on Saturdays and Sundays at Oakwood Heights Community Church, 345 Guyon Avenue. To make an appointment, call 718-720-8849 or 718-496-8354. The Rev. Lawrence Sallee’s sermon for Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. service is appropriately titled “A Home Under Water.” For information about the church, call 718-351-3667.
“Gender Liberation” is the focus of the next Soulful Sundown event this Sunday at the Unitarian Church of Staten Island in New Brighton.
“I would define ‘gender liberation’ as freedom from gender roles,” said Athena Huckaby, a member of the planning committee.
“Sexism towards women goes hand-in-hand with the idea that men should be tough, strong and ‘macho.’ These ideas are harmful to both men and women,” she continued. “Gender liberation means liberating folks from the ideas that they must fit into narrow roles of what society says it means to be a woman or a man.”
The speakers are Kelly Giles and William Taylor-Suderman. A collaborative arts project, musical entertainment by Giga Herbs, a dance party and free refreshments will be supplied at the event from 5 to 7 p.m. in the church at 312 Fillmore St. Free-will donations will be accepted.
Soulful Sundown takes place on the fourth Sunday of each month. For information, call 718-447-2204.
ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORY
The Rev. Neil Kelly, a parochial vicar at Prince’s Bay’s St. Joseph-St. Thomas R.C. Parish will be the speaker at Thursday’s free Adult Religious Education Spring Semester Program. His topic is “The History of The Catholic Church in New York — Part One.”
The free program will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Finn Hall located in St. Thomas Church at 6097 Amboy Rd. Refreshments will be served after the presentation.
For additional information, call Joe Delaney, adult religious education coordinator, at 718-967-9825.
Lighthouse Tabernacle Church has relocated to Charleston area and will have its opening service on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The Rev. Nancy Aponte, associate pastor, reports the church’s new address is 27A Brienna Court at Arthur Kill and Sharrotts Roads.
The church offers Bible study and prayer meetings, men’s and women’s fellowships, a young adults group, children classes and community outreach and services. For information, visit the web site Lighthousetabernacle.com.
AME ZION SERVICE
The North Shore-Staten Island Section of the National Council of Negro Women will hold its annual Brotherhood/Sisterhood service Sunday at Rossville AME Zion Church, 584 Bloomingdale Rd.
The 11 a.m. service will be led by the Rev. Janet Jones, pastor. For information, call 718-356-0200.
A special memorial tribute will be given by the family of Evelyn Morris King on Sunday at the Staten Island Branch of the NAACP’s annual Gospel Extravaganza, recently renamed in Mrs. King’s honor, at Susan Wagner High School.
A professional singing group comprised of Mrs. King’s nieces and a nephew will express their tribute in song and one of her nieces will speak about her legacy. Choirs from local churches will participate.
The Rev. Eli Smith, pastor of Shiloh AME Zion Church in West Brighton, will give the invocation and install officers and board members of the Island branch who will serve for this year and next.
Mrs. King was a teacher and civil rights activist whose father, William A. Morris, was a founder of the NAACP on the Island and Shiloh AME Zion Church. The free event will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. in the high school at 1200 Manor Rd. For information, call 718-442-0636.
This information comes to us from the World Jewish Congress Digest with an aside by me:
“German authorities are investigating the background of an 87-year-old Philadelphia man who could face charges for murder as an Auschwitz guard.
“JOHANN BREYER, a retired German immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship, admits to being a guard at the death camp but claims he was posted outside the encampment and had nothing to do with the wholesale slaughter that claimed some 1.5 million lives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
“The special German officer that investigates Nazi war crimes is not so sure, believing that the suspect played an active role in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews. If prosecutors act on the recommendation to prosecute and charge Breyer with accessory to murder, extradition proceedings would ensue.”
(Is there a time limit on such actions?)
Speaking of Nazis…
Recently the movie “Casablanca” appeared on Turner Classic Movies channel. What memories. As you recall (if you recall) the movie takes place during World War II and features probably the most memorable song ever written in America, “As Time Goes By.”
It was not written by a famous composer like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin or Jerome Kern. (They were all Jewish, by the way.)
It was written by a songwriter who wrote very few published pieces… but if you can only have one hit, this is the hit you want to have! His name was Herman Hupfeld. (No surprise, he was also Jewish.)
OK… you want to know why the Pope makes it into this column. Well, I’ll tell you. The surprise “retirement” of Pope Benedict XVI is just my lead-in, giving me an excuse to remember the wonderful deceased Pope John Paul II who was admired by many Jews throughout the world, including me. (I especially loved the poetry he wrote as a young priest named Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Poland.) Jewish relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved dramatically during his reign.
In 1979, John Paul II became the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where many of his compatriots (mostly Polish Jews) perished during the Nazi occupation. In 1998 he issued “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” which outlined his thinking on the Holocaust. He became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue, when he visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986.
In 1994, John Paul II established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, acknowledging its centrality in Jewish life and faith. On April 7, 1994, Pope John Paul II hosted “The Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust.” It was the first-ever Vatican event dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews murdered in World War II.
In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial in Israel, and later made history by touching one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, placing a letter inside it (in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions against Jews). In part of his address he said: “I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place”, he added that there were “no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”
In October 2003, the ADL issued a statement congratulating John Paul II on entering the 25th year of his papacy. In January 2005, John Paul II became the first Pope in history known to receive a priestly blessing from a rabbi. Immediately after John Paul II’s death, the ADL issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations, saying that, “more change for the better took place in his 27-year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before.”
In another statement issued by the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, director Dr. Colin Rubenstein said, “The Pope will be remembered for his inspiring spiritual leadership in the cause of freedom and humanity. He achieved far more in terms of transforming relations with both the Jewish people and the State of Israel than any other figure in the history of the Catholic Church.” (A few years ago, Irv and I visited the Vatican in Rome and met Pope Benedict XVI, who became Papal leader when Pope John Paul died. That was a pleasant visit… but I will never forget the wonderful accomplishments of Pope John Paul and how much he loved the Jewish people.)
Hadassah and Moldau save the day…
They are also responsible for saving a life!
At the January meeting of The Orlando Chapter of Hadassah, DAVID LEVANDUSKY, Life Support Education Coordinator for Orlando Health and an EMT, appeared before the assembled group to demonstrate life saving techniques. Using easy to remember terms, he taught the group the new CPR and the use of the Heimlich Maneuver to relieve an obstruction from the esophagus of a choking person.
Levandusky was so precise and clear in his presentation, that two days later, Hadassah member, HARRET MOLDAU, was able to put what she had learned into practice and save a man’s life. Upon entering an Arby’s Restaurant, Harriet and her husband, DAVID, noticed a man choking. His wife was hitting him on the back, in an effort to dislodge the offending object. David, realizing she had just learned the maneuver, urged Harriet to assist the choking man. Without giving it a second thought, she stepped in to help. Harriet first asked the wife to stop pounding her husband on the back, explaining that this would only make the situation worse. She then followed the instructions that Levandusky had given to the Hadassah group.
She asked the victim to stand, she then positioned herself behind him, and put into practice the thrusting procedure she had learned only days before. After two quick thrusts, the man expelled the obstruction and began breathing deeply. Needless to say the couple was grateful and thanked Moldau profusely. She, in turn, was thankful that she had taken the time to learn the maneuver and was able to step in and save a life. (Why doesn’t this true story surprise me? Well… Hadassah has always been known for its good works. And Harriet and David Moldau, who not too long ago moved to Central Florida from up north, were close friends with my sister-in-law, Victoria, who is deceased. Vicki was a wonderful woman and her close friends would be nothing less than wonderful as well!)
Great Jazz is coming…
The flying Horse Organ Trio, with special guest, JEFF RUPERT, will perform at the Altamonte Chapel on Semoran Boulevard, from noon-2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. Our own ALAN ROCK is emcee. Plan to attend for some great jazz!
One for the road…
Did you hear about the comedian who told the same jokes three nights running? (He didn’t dare tell them standing still!)
One more for the road…
Two entrepreneurs at a networking event tried to make small talk. “Hey, do you believe in survival of the fittest?” one asked.
“I don’t believe in the survival of anybody,” the other replied. “I’m an undertaker.”
If we start the count in 1295, when Pope Boniface VIII first required cardinals to elect a pope in a sealed room, the looming 2013 edition will be the 75th conclave in the history of the Catholic church. At one level, therefore, it’s possible to say that we’ve seen this show before, most recently eight years ago.
In many ways, the 2013 conclave will seem identical to those that have gone before: the same procession into the Sistine Chapel, the same black and white smoke, the same “Habemus Papam” moment when the new pope has been chosen. (Trivia point: By tradition, the announcement is made by the Proto-Deacon, meaning the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, who this time around is French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. He should be the guy who steps out onto the balcony to deliver the news — unless, of course, he’s elected himself.)
Despite the echoes of the past, there are several unique features about this conclave that alter the politics and, perhaps, suggest a longer and more difficult process. Herewith, the top 10 differences about the 2013 edition of the papal election.
1. Resignation, not death
The most obvious difference is that for the first time in 600 years, the cardinals will be electing a pope following a resignation rather than death. Procedurally, that doesn’t change anything; it’s the same sede vacante, the same rules for each round of balloting (known as a “scrutiny”), and so on. Psychologically, however, the contrast is enormous.
When any major world leader dies, let alone a pope, the air is usually filled with tributes and outpourings of grief and affection. Simple human decency implies not speaking ill of the dead, especially while the loss is still fresh. As a result, it’s more difficult for cardinals to voice criticism of the papacy that just ended — certainly in public, and at times even among themselves.
By separating the end of his papacy from the end of his life, Benedict XVI has spared the cardinals that pressure, allowing them to voice both at the strengths of this pontificate but also its weaknesses. That may help them arrive at a more balanced assessment, but it could also complicate the deliberations and make it more difficult to identify candidates.
The other major consequence is that there’s no funeral Mass, meaning there’s no platform for one of the cardinals to distinguish himself by delivering a memorable homily paying tribute to the deceased pope. Last time, many cardinals cited Joseph Ratzinger’s performance at John Paul’s funeral liturgy, and more broadly Ratzinger’s leadership during the interregnum, as a decisive factor in consolidating support for him within the College of Cardinals.
2. No clear frontrunner
Despite what you may have read, to hear most cardinals tell it, the election of Joseph Ratzinger in 2005 was not a “done deal” when they entered the Sistine Chapel to begin voting. Cardinals insist they were still considering a variety of names, and several cardinals told me after the fact they had not made up their minds when the show started.
On the other hand, they all report that everyone knew Ratzinger would be a strong candidate, and their pre-conclave deliberations thus had an obvious focus. They knew they had to decide if they would support John Paul’s doctrinal czar or not, because nobody with eyes to see could have missed the signs of the strong support Ratzinger enjoyed.
By consensus, there is no such clear point of reference, no slam-dunk front-runner, this time around. There are a number of candidates who seem plausible, but no one who towers over the rest. As a result, pre-conclave discussions may not have the same focus, and it may take longer for consensus to build.
3. The surprise factor
With his resignation, Benedict delivered a massive shock to the system, breaking with what had previously been a sort of quasi-dogmatic conviction in some quarters that while a pope technically could resign, they really shouldn’t. As the saying used to go, “You can’t renounce paternity.”
(I spoke to one cardinal this week who was in the Feb. 11 consistory when Benedict made his historic announcement, and even though he understood the Latin perfectly well, he said his first reaction was, “This can’t be happening.”)
Having already received one huge surprise, perhaps the cardinals will be more disposed to another. For instance, they could look outside the College of Cardinals for the next pope. (The last time that happened was 1378, just 50 years before the last pope to resign.) In this climate, every wildcard scenario seems slightly more thinkable.
4. The veterans
In April 2005, there were only two cardinals who had ever participated in a conclave before, Ratzinger and William Baum of the United States, while this time there are 50 old hands.
That contrast could cut one of two ways: Either it will mean the cardinals will be better organized and more efficient because more of them know what it takes, or the deliberations will be more protracted and fractious because fewer cardinals are willing simply to play “follow the leader.”
5. The time lapse
In 2005, 16 days passed between the death of John Paul II on April 2 and the opening of the conclave April 18. Of course, it was clear that John Paul was in decline much earlier, but given how many times he’d been through health scares before and somehow managed to solider on, many cardinals didn’t start thinking about the transition in earnest until he actually died.
Most of them weren’t in Rome when the pope died, either, so a few of those 16 days were eaten up by travel.
This time, however, Benedict’s resignation announcement came Feb. 11, meaning the cardinals could begin thinking about what comes next from that point forward. Virtually all of them are planning to be in Rome for the pope’s final audience on Feb. 27 and his farewell Feb. 28, so the whole college can hit the ground running immediately thereafter.
As of this writing, the precise date for the beginning of the conclave was still up in the air. The earliest realistic date, however, is probably March 9 or 10.
The bottom line is that the cardinals have a lot more time than in 2005 to prepare, to ponder various candidates, and to consult among themselves to see who appears to have support. Once again, that could mean a more streamlined process with the bugs worked out in advance; alternatively, it could mean a more protracted conclave, as various blocs have time to organize and the media has more time to dig into the backgrounds of the contenders, potentially raising questions marks that might give voters pause.
6. The scandal effect
The child sex abuse crisis was already set in cement as a defining issue for Americans by 2005, but it didn’t really erupt in Europe until 2010. In the meantime, the Vatican has also been hit with a number of other embarrassing episodes, such as the Vatileaks scandal and persistent allegations of financial corruption.
In that context, a larger share of cardinals this time around is likely to be concerned that the new pope be perceived to have “clean hands.”
In practice, this may produce a sort of burden, rather than benefit, of the doubt for any candidate publicly linked to some sort of scandal. In the hothouse atmosphere of the pre-conclave period, some cardinals are likely to feel they don’t have the time to separate truth from falsehood and may conclude that the safest thing to do is to steer clear of anyone who seems even potentially tainted.
As one cardinal put it to me the other day with regard to a prominent fellow cardinal who’s been identified in the Italian press with allegedly shady financial deals, “I don’t know what actually happened, but right now it seems like too big a risk.”
7. No benefit for the big dogs
The most important figures during a sede vacante are usually the dean of the College of Cardinals, who presides over their meetings and lead all the public functions, and the camerlengo, who has charge of day-to-day church affairs that can’t wait for the next pope. When those positions are held by serious candidates for the papacy, it can offer a major boost to their prospects.
As mentioned, Ratzinger’s prominence last time as dean was often cited as a major factor in his election.
This time, however, neither of the “big dogs” is truly considered a serious contender. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean, is 85, and possibly tainted by memories of his energetic defense of the late Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was later found guilty of a wide range of sexual abuse and misconduct. The camerlengo, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is faulted by many cardinals for most of the managerial breakdowns during Benedict’s papacy.
As a result, these two roles don’t carry a built-in political advantage this time, once again suggesting a more wide-open, and arguably more complicated, field of play.
8. Two-thirds vote
When John Paul II issued his rules for the conclave in 1996 with the document Universi dominici gregis, he included a provision allowing the cardinals to elect a pope by a simple majority rather than the traditional two-thirds majority if they were deadlocked after roughly thirty ballots, meaning seven days or so.
Procedurally, the conclave of 2005 never got anywhere close to invoking that provision, since they elected Benedict XVI in just four ballots. Psychologically, however, some cardinals said afterward that everyone knew that codicil was on the books, so that once Ratzinger’s vote total crossed the 50 percent threshold, the outcome seemed all but inevitable.
In 2007, Benedict XVI issued an amendment to John Paul’s document, eliminating the possibility of election by a simple majority. This time, the cardinals know that whoever’s elected has to draw support from two-thirds of the college under any circumstances, which may mean they’re less inclined to simply jump on a bandwagon when someone gets half the votes in a given round.
9. Spiritual exercises
By resigning just before the beginning of Lent, Benedict XVI may have wanted to set a penitential tone for the conclave, inviting the cardinals to spiritual sobriety and an examination of conscience. In practice, however, the timing also handed a huge platform to one possible successor: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who’s preaching the Vatican’s annual Lenten retreat.
Such a scenario is really possible only with a resigned pope. The Lenten spiritual exercises are conducted for the pope and the Roman Curia; had the pope died, he obviously wouldn’t be taking part, and most senior officials of the curia lose their jobs in a sede vacante. The only way the exercises could go forward is for the pope still to be around, and for the prefects and presidents still to be on the books.
By most accounts, Ravasi is delivering a typically bravura performance. He’s offering three reflections each day, drawing on his expertise as a biblical scholar and a man of deep erudition. One cardinal who’s taking part in the exercises told me Wednesday that so far, he’s found Ravasi “extremely impressive.”
This veteran curial cardinal added, however, that he doesn’t know much about Ravasi otherwise — a somewhat striking statement, given that Ravasi has worked in the Vatican since 2007. It reflects Ravasi’s unique profile as somebody who’s in the Vatican but not really of it, more focused on engaging the worlds of art, science and culture than in building ecclesiastical empires.
That reputation might help Ravasi in the sense that he’s anything but a schemer, and he certainly carries no public baggage related to any of the Vatican’s recent scandals. However, some may wonder if he’d be another pope more interested in the life of the mind than actually running the church.
10. Social media
This will be the first conclave to unfold fully and truly in the age of social media, amid Twitter, Facebook and all the other new tools of communication out there. News and comment moves far faster, and through far more channels, than was the case even as recently as 2005.
Not every cardinal spends his spare updating his Facebook status and dispatching tweets, of course, but they and the people around them are certainly attentive to what’s being said about the pope and the candidates for the papacy during this period. If once upon a time cardinals used to grouse that they didn’t know enough about one another, this time around, they’re like to complain about information overload.
Further, social media also creates whole new opportunities for others to inject themselves into the process — if not the actual voting, certainly the run-up. Activists, pundits, people with theological, political, and even liturgical axes to grind are taking to the airwaves and the blogosphere with force, helping to set the tone and shape the content of public conversation.
Try as they might to insist they’re not influenced by any of this, most cardinals in their honest moments will admit it’s hard not to be, and that alone means they’ll have more on their brains than usual this time around.
In the highly political world in which we live, it was probably inevitable that some readers would perceive a conspiracy behind either the choice of cardinals I’ve chosen to profile, the order in which I’m presenting them, or both. (My favorite is that I’m working through a hit list of guys I don’t want to see as the next pope, planting the kiss of death on them by putting their names out too early. I’m tempted to say that whenever there’s a conclave the whole world turns Italian, seeing Machiavellian plots under every rock.)
For the record, let me just say there’s neither science nor cunning involved here. I’m simply picking cardinals who seem to be generating the most buzz, judging that by mentions in the press, how many questions I’m fielding about them from colleagues and the public, and what I pick up in private conversations with cardinals. (I should say that virtually every cardinal with whom I’ve spoken his week says it’s too early to assess who might be in play, so even when they drop a name or two, it may not mean much right now.)
The sequence is even less calculated, if that’s possible. So far I’ve simply gotten out of bed in Rome each morning, and in the couple of hours of calm I have before the day takes on a life of its own, I’ve asked myself which guy I can profile the quickest based upon whatever happened the day before — whose name came up, what background the day’s events helped me to develop, and so on.
In other words, there’s less “there” there than you might suppose.
[John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His email address is email@example.com.]
Much like in Pakistani government, transitions were rarely smooth. If you didn’t want to go the “anti-pope” route, the only other option was murder (v popular all round) or defamation. My favorite story is about Pope Stephen VI, a man so vindictive that he had his predecessor’s body exhumed, put on trial and declared guilty of crimes against God. As punishment the dead Pope’s three blessing fingers were cut off (“no more peace signs for you!”). One imagines Stephen VI did not espouse the virtues of forgiveness.
There are some very real questions that occur to me. Where, for example, will Pope Benedict live? What will he do? Will he be like last year’s Ms. Universe, only appearing in infomercials (“Hello and welcome to Express Exorcisms! Today’s topic: When Grandma refuses to leave”), or will he be put into cloisters for the rest of his days? If there is another living Pope, does Benedict’s authority just cease or does he share the love? There just isn’t any precedent for a Dowager Pope (it’s kind of like when there were two slayers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer), so I can’t wait to see what they make him wear.
I saw Pope Jean Paul II once when I had the privilege of attending a mass at the Vatican. He appeared like a hunched smurf at the window, his bent back at a right angle to his legs and his face almost touching the balcony before him. Three men were holding him up. In the plaza around me were a sea of visitors to the Vatican – Catholics, Greeks, Arabs, Indians, Japanese – and everyone was looking at him with the same reverence and awe that I was. There he is, we thought, the man who can call the Sistine Chapel his lounge. Most people liked JP2. Especially after he died and his post when to a man who looked like a cross between Zia-ul-Haq and Cruella DeVille.
[box3]Rumors abound that the resignation of the present Pope is due to an age-related debilitating disease, and I imagine it has to be something that would make it impossible for the man to continue. The reason I find the whole thing so interesting is because this man is the head of the largest religious denomination in the world. His word is law for over a billion people, and yet here we are talking about him effectively retiring. It’s the first acknowledgment that the Pope is indeed a human being, and that his position is not divinely decreed and overseen by angels but rather a job with physical and mental requirements. Still, the timing is off: the Pope is leaving just before Lent and the new one won’t be elected until March, leaving the Throne of Peter empty for the one day when most everyone will be looking.
Sitting in Lahore, watching all this unfold on the Internet, I am tempted to ask: will any of the Papas (generals, judges, gentlemen) who rule Pakistan ever consider stepping down voluntarily? I promise them this: they will go down in history as exceptions to a very bad rule; and no one will try to cut off their fingers.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @fkantawala.com
Almost before the alarm clocks went off, news traveled throughout the U.S. on Monday, Feb. 11 that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning the papacy, an unprecedented event in our lifetime, but not in the history of the Catholic Church, we have since learned.
Then the “alarm bells” started going off! Oh, the Church will certainly experience a schism now with a “Pope-emeritus” breathing down the neck of a new Pope. The new Pope might be a progressive who will undo many of the things that his two predecessors had implemented. With two leaders at the helm, a rift in the Church is inevitable! Such alarmists!
There would be only one leader at the helm — the new Pope! Besides, Pope Benedict XVI would much rather write his books, play his piano and enjoy his cats than be Pope. Why resign if he still wants to meddle in Church affairs? Most likely, any man would rather do anything than be Pope – maybe not before their election; but how many weeks does it take for reality to set in regarding the papacy’s burdens?
Some say the Pope was very courageous in resigning. Personally, I think “humility” is the order of the day. It took a great deal of honest soul searching and humility for Pope Benedict XVI to honestly say he is tired, physically and mentally, to the point that he can no longer be a viable leader of the Church, and for the good of the Church he is resigning the Petrine ministry entrusted to him. For a Pope to recognize that another man will be able to run the church after him, that he has done his part, and it’s time for someone else to take over takes humility and trust in the Holy Spirit.
Our senior Catholics who have experienced many changes in the church often exhibit this same humility and trust in the Holy Spirit. They know the church will continue on doing quite well once they are in heaven. (Then there are others, laypeople and ordained, who want to control every aspect of Church life. Such restless souls are they!)
Naysayers, doomsday people and bad news bearers have yet to hear of the Holy Spirit. Or they don’t believe the Holy Spirit is really guiding the Church in 2013. There are indeed many fractious issues the Church needs to address. We humans are the greatest obstacles to the Holy Spirit. Church history certainly proves that God’s Spirit must be guiding and preserving this very human, divinely-filled yet sinful people the Lord calls into existence generation after generation. Otherwise we would have foundered long ago!
TV pundits are discussing whether a “liberal,” “conservative,” “progressive” or “moderate” pope will be elected to succeed Benedict XVI. I despise such labels. They do nothing but divide us. Labeling people puts them in boxes difficult to escape from. Labels are an injustice against people demonstrating a great lack of respect. We sin against people we label because we can no longer listen to them, or recognize God’s wisdom in them or even love them. Our labels make us afraid of them. Our suspicions of them lead us to avoid them. Such behavior is never a sign of God’s presence among us.
We all have our expectations of what the next Pope will be like. I want the new Pope to be a man dedicated to Jesus and his Gospel, a person who understands ordinary people and their day-to-day struggles, a prayerful person, a collegial Pope who makes decisions by consulting with his brother bishops, a man open to the Spirit’s promptings whom Jesus said would guide us into all truth, who listens to the Spirit speaking through all God’s faithful people and someone who can laugh knowing God is in charge. (Like Pope John XXIII is reportedly to have prayed every night before retiring, “Dear Lord, it’s your world and your church. I’ve done the best I could today. Good Night!”
Names are already being tossed around — they are called “papabile” (those electable to be pope). There’s an old saying in the Vatican, “He who enters the conclave as Pope comes out as a cardinal.” No doubt politicking will take place during the coffee breaks. Is politicking bad? Not necessarily. Politicking actually comes from the Greek word “polis” meaning “people.” So if the cardinals discuss which man will be the “best Pope for the People of God,” then politic away! If they politic to maintain a certain position in the Church, only Almighty God can judge the sincerity of their actions.
Hopefully we have already begun to pray to the Holy Spirit for the cardinals preparing to elect the new Pope, for the man who gets elected Bishop of Rome and thus Pope, and for Pope Benedict XVI. If I were he, I would retire back to my beautiful Bavaria, live with my aging priest-brother, play my piano, write books, pray, have fun with my kitty cats, drink a few beers each day and enjoy some daily Scweinehaxen (grilled pig knuckles)! But he hasn’t telephoned me for my advice yet . . .
NAPLES, Fla. – A religious leader who will help choose the next Pope was in Naples tonight. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C. was the keynote speaker at Ave Maria University’s 2nd annual scholarship dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort.
Before he spoke, he shared some insight into the crucial weeks that lie ahead. Cardinal Wuerl is one of 117 cardinals from all corners of the world who will help write the next chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. “Its a moment, however long that moment might be, days, weeks, it’s a moment of silence,” Wuerl said.
He’s focusing on that silence and openness as he takes on the incredible responsibility of selecting the Pope to succeed Benedict XVI when he steps down February 28th. Wuerl said he’s looking for a candidate “who continues that wonderful legacy of Blessed John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, that keeps us focused on the spiritual mission of the church.”
There are 11 American Cardinals heading to Rome. Already, names like Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston have surfaced as potential candidates. When asked if an American Pope is in the realm of possibility, Wuerl said, “It’s probably going to be more wishful thinking on the part of some of us who love some of the American Cardinals. The United States is the world’s only super power and part of the spiritual mission of the Pope is to from time to time, remind all of us how that power is supposed to be used. It’s probably best done by someone who isn’t identified with the United States.”
Wuerl said the Cardinals will spend a few days getting to know one another. But once inside the conclave, there will be silence, prayer and reflection. He said the new Pope faces the challenge of secularism and its growing influence on the world. “The task of the Pope is to remain faithful to the tradition and see that he holds the whole family together,” Wuerl said. “That is going to be his major task.”
The reason behind Thursday’s event is Ave Maria’s scholarship program which awards nearly $10 million to students each year.
Cardinal Wuerl flew back to Washington D.C. after the dinner. He leaves Sunday for Vatican City.
“The pope is the only one who can rule on this topic. So until 19:59 (local time – 1859 GMT) on February 28, any new ruling from Benedict XVI will be valid,” said the Deputy Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library Ambrogio Piazzoni during a news conference on Wednesday.
The rule changes could mean that the Roman Catholic Church might be able to start the papal election process before March 15, which is currently the earliest it can begin.
Under the current papal election rules, the 117 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church’s conclave must start the process of choosing the new pontiff between 15 and 20 days after the position becomes vacant.
The conclave in Italy’s Rome should wait for the arrival of other cardinals at the Vatican administration to go ahead with the selection process.
However, some cardinals reportedly say that the election process should start sooner than March 15, given the Pope’s resignation date, to reduce the time for the Church to remain without leader.
On February 11, Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of Christians, said he intends to officially step down from his post at 1900 GMT on February 28 since he is no longer able to carry out his duties.
The Pope’s decision was an unprecedented move in the modern history of the Catholic Church, which has recently come under the spotlight over allegations of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests to protect pedophiles and its own reputation.