Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why an American has no chance of becoming Pope

Or, practically no chance, at least.

Much of the world's punditry is focussed on "where" in the world the next Pope is to come from. I am a big fan of the idea that the Pope should be elected based upon holiness and suitability to the needs of the time; but I also think that where someone is from and suitability are not entirely unrelated.

While Conclaves can be somewhat of a surprise, and a dark horse candidate can emerge after much indecision, I think that an American-- or anyone from a particular church that is newly evangelized, for that matter-- simply has no real chance of being Pope.

The reason for this follows upon my last post, on the "scandal" of abdication: It is simply that new world countries, although where Catholicism may be on the rise, do not really have a concept of Catholicism, and the monarchy that comes with it, that goes to their bones.

That is not to say that the Cardinals from new world countries aren't good, holy, devout men who would not make good popes. On the contrary, it is simply because the culture from which they come has Catholicism added on to it; either as an afterthought, or alongside of any number of other good options for filling the religious vacuum in a culture. And to have Catholicism in your bones is an important thing for a Pope.

In Europe, Catholicism built the culture. It is so engrained into the DNA of a European that they can't escape it-- and incidentally, why there is such a violent reaction against it in the secular movement.

Europe, although trying to tear away the last vestiges of it, is also a society that is built upon the aristocratic system that comes with monarchy; a system that is even mirrored in the Church with the College of Cardinals. In this light, it should not be surprising that there are European Cardinals that come from aristocratic families.

An evangelized culture will always have that tension between the culture it lives within, and the culture of the Church. It becomes a sub-culture, as it were. While this is also capable of being true in an historically Catholic culture, more importantly, the remains of old Catholic culture are still present, be it in the organization of cities around parishes, or Corpus Christi still being a holiday with a procession and feast, etc. Catholic cultures live Catholicism; whereas evangelized cultures can only strive for this as an ideal.

This contrast between old and new, a Catholic Culture and an Evangelized Culture, is why at least it is more suitable for there to be a European Pope-- one who can be seen to be relatable to all cultures, not simply a particular culture.

The Conclave will no doubt be an exciting one-- there is no apparent future leader of the Church that sticks out-- ironically, perhaps because Ratzinger is still in relatively good health and not in need of that sort of assistance that enabled himself to become a papal contender in 2005.

I personally think that it depends upon how long the Conclave lasts. If it concludes relatively quickly, say, in the first 3 days, I think that it will go to an Italian. Scola is a front-runner, but I think Bagnasco has a good chance, as well.

If it goes longer, look for the Pope to come from the Curia or greater Europe. Only if the Conclave moves beyond a week, to, say 1 to 2 weeks, will the Pope have any chance of coming from outside of Europe.

I could be very wrong, but if this sort of prediction is correct, then perhaps Canizares Llovera is papabile.

If there were any North American contenders, I would guess that Levada, Oullet, or Burke are the only ones who have a chance at all-- and that is because they would have come from the Curia, and have come to know and live the Roman custom of things. They would have their best chances in the 3 days- 1 week timeframe.

Some people would say Dolan has a good chance-- perhaps the best of any American. He has a good record as rector of the NAC, he gave the address to the College of Cardinals last year at the Holy Father's choosing, etc. However, I am not inclined to think that Dolan will be the guy. As president of the USCCB, he represents the American Church, with all of its plusses and minuses. At the end of the day, as admired as many things are about American Catholicism, it is still looked down upon with disdain by many in Europe as that new kid on the block still struggling to belong-- this would be an impediment to the universality needed by a pope.

While we're at it, I'll go on record to say Bertone doesn't have a chance.

Outside of the one week time frame, it is anyone's guess and all I have said to this point would no longer be applicable; but perhaps Pell, or, if we are really playing fantasy league here, Ranjith wouldn't be a bad pick at all-- but I do think that this would be not unlike the pick of JPii; the Cardinals would, after a week or two, be looking to find someone they all can agree on and get it over with, and so would then be willing to entertain some ideas that are outside of the box.

All of that analysis given, I say that the head of the Church of Rome should be from Rome, or at least an Italian. Bagnasco for the win. (Pius XIII or Leo XIV, anyone?)

Friday, February 15, 2013

The "Scandal" of Abdication

I have seen so many commenters in the past days who have praised the Pope for his decision to step down as reigning Pontiff, viewing it as sign of his humility, his realization that he cannot lead because of his age, even (on the more extreme end) that he is setting a precedent for future Popes to feel free to resign after a term of years.

I must say that I strongly object to these sentiments, as, contrary to the prevailing headlines, the Holy Father did not in fact "resign". What he said was:
"I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005..."

The Supreme Pontiff is not merely an employee, free to retire as he will. He is a monarch. He is the Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, endowed by God with the powers to bind and to loose those things pertaining to faith and morals, both on Earth and in Heaven.

What the Holy Father did was to abdicate, to renounce his claim to the throne. And this, perhaps rightly, can be perceived as scandalous.

Although Christ is the Eternal King, reigning gloriously in Heaven, the person seated on the Chair of Peter exercises the temporal rule over Christians universally in Christ's name. One does not abdicate lightly or for trivial reasons such as health or age, or any of the other reasons that have been touted as noble and good and right-- after all, he was chosen by God for the position that he holds.

For this reason, I can understand why many people have reacted to the news that the Holy Father is stepping down, not with praise, but rather with a sense of confusion, anger, and even betrayal-- I know for me personally, I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that Benedict, a Pope so loved and who has done so much for the building up of the unity of the Church, is stepping down while leaving many projects largely unfinished.

There is a very poignant scene in the film, The King's Speech, which portrays Bertie (the future King George VI) just after his elder brother, Edward, renounces the throne. The scene shows Bertie's reaction to this turn of events, and you can tell that he has a sense of utter desolation, fear, abandonment, anger, an incapacity to handle what is to come-- all because of an act that was seen by many as selfish.

I think that this image, one full of uncertainty about the future, is perhaps an apt comparison to the feeling that many may have about the news of our Holy Father's abdication from the throne of Peter.

Edward VIII's reasons for abdicating the throne of the British Empire were most certainly not noble ones, and had an impact across the globe, especially in light of the rising Nazi powers at the time. However, the decision also paved the way for precisely the right leader at the right time to conquer the evil plight facing Europe.

Whether our beloved Holy Father truly made the right decision or not is something that we will never know-- that will remain between him and God. I do think, however, that if we have placed our trust in Pope Benedict during his pontificate up to this point, then we can at least give him the benefit of the doubt in this particular decision, which I am sure he did not make lightly.

For those who would praise his decision to abdicate, I would encourage you to celebrate the past and current leadership he has given, but not to celebrate his abdication as such-- I have no doubt that, though the Holy Father has deliberated long and has now made a firm decision, it is not one that has come without great personal suffering to him.

For those who are still at a loss at the nearly unprecedented action that Benedict has taken, I would encourage you to remember Christ, and use this as an opportunity to renew your faith in his promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church.

With that faith intact, we can remain in hope that Benedict's abdication was indeed the right decision; but regardless, to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring forth the next Pope, who will be the right man for the right time, and through the grace of the Office of Peter, be able to navigate the barque of the Church through the turbulent waters which undoubtedly lie ahead.

In this sense, we are not unlike the disciples, who hoped in the Messiah's kingship to free them from their bondage, only to be utterly disappointed by the scandal of the crucifixion and death of their Lord and Savior.

Perhaps different from the Disciples, we have the benefit in hindsight of knowing of the Resurrection. And so, though perhaps scandalous to some, hopefully this event in the life of the Church may be an opportunity for further growth, vitality, and renewal for the faithful members of the Church Militant, that we too will be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.

Oremus pro Pontifice!