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How, during the lifetime of a pope, can his successor gain the authority he needs? We are in a time of uncertainty: but we are also in God’s hands

We all need to approach the conclave without resentment or feelings of betrayal

By on Monday, 18 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI waves after giving an address about Vatican II to clergy in Rome (Photo: PA)

Pope Benedict XVI waves after giving an address about Vatican II to clergy in Rome (Photo: PA)

The reaction of most Catholics to the Holy Father’s decision to abdicate at the end of the month has been largely supportive. Even those of us who wish he hadn’t done it have tried to accept his retirement as being the best thing that could have happened. Loyal Catholics are in the habit of accepting and being guided by the pope’s decisions, after all. But I am beginning to detect another current of opinion, one with which I have to admit I am not entirely out of sympathy. Don’t mistake me. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this decision really is in the best interests of the Church. Pope Benedict knows more than we do what he is capable of; and more to the point, perhaps, what the other factors are that he is taking into consideration.

But among loyal Catholics there is another reaction, of which we ought perhaps to take cognisance, since it may be a part of our own feelings that should be confronted if we are really to come to terms with the reality: the reality that we are now in the final days of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. It is this: the sense that for a Pope to resign is unthinkable: and that he shouldn’t, therefore, have done it. I myself wrote a blog last year (of which I have been reminded by crowing Anglicans) explaining why it couldn’t happen: these jubilant Anglicans have demanded that I return to the subject to explain myself (what they want is a grovel, which they’re not going to get): of that, more presently. But some quite moderate Catholics are beginning to question what the pope has done. Charles Moore, in the Spectator, puts it quite quietly: “Pope Benedict is stepping down for conscientious reasons about which he will have thought deeply. But I still fear that his decision is a mistake… The orthodoxy has grown up that the long physical decline of Pope John Paul II was a disaster which should not be repeated. This is not so… The papacy is a sacred office, and the idea that its holder gives himself to it for life, despite whatever suffering it may entail, is an inspiring one. John Paul bore moving witness to this.”

Certainly, I argued myself last year that the idea that the holder of the office of pope gives himself to it for life is indeed an inspiring one: and there can be little doubt, therefore, that there has been in that sense a loss. The question has to be this: now a modern pope has resigned, will resignation become habitual, even normal? The decision of the pope soon to be elected will perhaps be decisive: and I for one hope that he dies in office (unless he is very old I will not live to see it, whatever he does).

Charles Moore’s reaction must have been shared by many. But there has been a more violent one; and I wonder how common it is. “I am angry about what’s happened,” says the blogger A Reluctant Sinner, “ – very upset. I also feel let down by the Pope, and fear that his ‘resignation’ will prove to be the gravest threat to the Papacy since it was established by Our Lord nearly 2,000 years ago.” He goes on to ask “why has Pope Benedict XVI abandoned the flock which the Holy Spirit entrusted into his care? What is the grave reason behind his decision? … He, as a man, isn’t particularly severely impeded – he can’t be that weak … if he spent an hour yesterday making off-the-cuff, and highly intelligent, if not demob happy, remarks to the clergy of Rome! From what I have read and seen, he seems lucid; and, although physically frail, he is able to get about and perform certain functions (including Wednesday’s Mass in St Peter’s).

“Even if he couldn’t move much or was gravely ill, or whatever, I firmly believe that the / a pope doesn’t have to be a celebrity, travelling from one global function to the next – there is nothing wrong with just being the Successor of Peter; unseen, rarely seen, or hidden away and allowing others to do all the work. This is what most popes have done over the centuries.”

Last year, I argued that if Pope John Paul “had been an Archbishop of Canterbury … he would, of course, have retired 20 years before, in time for a final career, maybe as an academic, perhaps back at the Jagiellonian University — just as Rowan Williams is to end up at Cambridge. It does, in a way, explain why no Anglican archbishop can ever have the kind of spiritual authority for Anglicans that a Pope has for Catholics: the fact is that in accepting the crown of thorns that is papal office, the Successor of Peter gives himself absolutely and irreversibly: there is no escape, no possibility of a peaceful retirement; it is — or would be without the strength that only God can give — a truly fearsome prospect.”

Well, I was wrong about the possibility of a peaceful retirement. Pope Benedict’s, however, isn’t going to be like Rowan Williams’s or George Carey’s. He won’t be responding to journalists’ questions, or sounding off about this or that (as we can confidently expect Rowan Williams to do). He will live a cloistered life: he will simply disappear from view: and his life will be just as deeply consecrated to God by his original election to papal office as it was before, but in a quite different way: he will become, as A Reluctant Sinner suggests, what he could have been anyway – “unseen, rarely seen, or hidden away and allowing others to do all the work”.

Except for one thing: the person doing all the work will be his successor. And the question I then asked has yet to be answered by events. “You simply can’t have retired popes around,” I went on to say: “For how, during the lifetime of an ex-pope, would his successor ever gain the kind of authority a pope needs to have?”

That’s the big question. The fact is that there’s no way the present Holy Father can ever cease to be Benedict XVI. His pontificate is a historical fact: and he will still embody it. Will he overshadow his successor? In a way it’s a meaningless question. Even if he had died instead of resigning, it could still be asked. There are those after all (though not I) who insist that his own pontificate was overshadowed by that of Pope John Paul.

Has the papacy been weakened, as I said it would be? We simply cannot say: In St Paul’s words, “God knows; not I”. And we are all in His hands, as are both Pope Benedict and the man destined to be his successor. Above all, we must not allow ourselves to be overmastered by grief or anger, as some may presently be doing. This is an uncertain time: but uncertainty, if we go into it sustained by God, may lead us, in the end, into a greater certainty and a more glorious outcome.

  • JabbaPapa

    My confessor is a Monsignor and not a Bishop — but everyone just calls him “Père” (Father).

    Lovely man !!! :-)

  • Jonathan West

    He will be Ratzinger again after he has ceased to be Benedict XVI. The Vatican has already announced that, and in using that name, I was referring to the time in which he will be called that. So it seems that in objecting to that, you are being the anti-Catholic refusing to accept the provisions of canon law on this subject.

    As for Soper, it is quite possible that he has been sheltered by the church hierarchy, or by a lay Catholic with the tacit approval of the hierarchy. If it turns out to be so, then the least the new Pope could do would be to ensure that the sheltering is ended immediately and voluntarily.

    As for the insolubility of religious disagreements, is the Filioque controversy going to get resolved any time soon?

  • scary goat

     Good! Can I share a bit please?  I think it’s just knowing that our current Pope will be gone and we haven’t got a new one yet. Waiting can be a difficult time.

  • scary goat

     Well, yes, certainly you can’t go around calling any Mass “evil” per se……obviously. I’m not really very sure what he meant. I’m wondering if it might have been a case of “foot-in-mouth” disease where he didn’t explain himself very well. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Taumpj Thomaspj Poovathinkal

    “the Successor of Peter”, STILL CLOSER TO THE TRUTH :THE  REPRESENTATIVE OF JESUS THE LORD ON EARTH. O MY GOD JESUS, he (OUR POPE) needs to be there on THE CROSS until the very last moment just like OUR BELOVED POPE JOHN PAUL II and all others before him.

    EVEN NOW I PRAY with a grieving heart and mind………..”LORD, PLEASE…………….

    “unseen, rarely seen, or hidden away and allowing others to do all the work”, WHY NOT, provided they or the most trusted and esteemed one AMONG THEM ALL(by the Pope of course) followers and executes WHAT THE POPE WOULD DO.

    THE CHURCH OF THE LORD is not a temporal KINGDOM; it is not a human institution. IT IS THE HEAVENLY MOVEMENT OF SALVATION on earth under guidance of the SPIRIT OF THE SON OF GOD, JESUS THE LORD who never ran away from HIS CROSS. IF HE EVER RAN AWAY WOULD WE HAVE BEEN SAVED?

    LORD JESUS, PLEASE………..POPE BENEDICT XVI, PLEASE…………………………….

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • http://www.facebook.com/Taumpj Thomaspj Poovathinkal

    William Oddie, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing this article.

    Thomas Poovathinkal (SSP)

  • JonathanBurdon

    Your presumably false surname gives away your liberal, uncatholic tendencies.

  • JabbaPapa

    Ah !! SSP — OK thank you very much for this information and personal background, Father … :-)

  • JabbaPapa

    He will be Ratzinger again after he has ceased to be Benedict XVI. The Vatican has already announced that, and in using that name, I was referring to the time in which he will be called that. So it seems that in objecting to that, you are being the anti-Catholic refusing to accept the provisions of canon law on this subject.

    Don’t be a jerk !!!

    NOT “Ratzinger” — Cardinal Ratzinger, or Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    ++Ratzinger if you like — but even THAT would be utterly unaceptable for an ex-Pope, as you would immediately realise if you were a faithful Catholic ; except that you aren’t.

    As for Soper, it is quite possible that he has been sheltered by the
    church hierarchy, or by a lay Catholic with the tacit approval of the
    hierarchy

    NB calling this individual “Soper” does not elicit any kind of remark. hmmmmm …

    Otherwise, your allegation is scurrilous and slanderous, and based on an apparent absence of any evidence whatsoever.

    The Filioque issue is not “insoluble”(try re-translating the original 7th century Iberic Late Latin text, as I have done, instead of parading whichever clichéd views that you may have) — in fact, your notion that those IN the Church might have “insoluble” differences with the Holy Father is utterly ludicrous. By definition, any who have such differences are uncatholic.

  • Sweetjae

    Thank you so much for your reply, I really appreciate your kindness. Well sometimes my emotions get the better of me, I just don’t like it when people from either side of the extremes (modernists and ultratrads) to provoke, ridicule and attack our holy Father B16, a duly convened Council and the Church which I dearly love without at least giving the benefit of the doubt and act prudently even if there is an accusation of misconduct.

    Most of the attacks from both sides are misrepresentations because they both believed that they got it right not the Pope nor the Church- thus result of pride and arrogance to Christ’s ordained Authority.

    The root cause of the problem why we have this mess inside the Church in the first place is not because of Popes or legit Council as weak and evil but rather these people who say are ‘catholics’ have been acting the same way as Martin Luther, committing private judgments/interpretations outside of the Magisterium.

  • JabbaPapa

    Our Holy Father has already been chosen by the Holy Spirit of God.

    Do not be afraid !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    NO — it was a deliberate statement. A deliberate heresy.

  • Jonathan West

     in fact, your notion that those IN the Church might have “insoluble” differences with the Holy Father is utterly ludicrous. By definition, any who have such differences are uncatholic.

    I see that the No True Scotsman logical fallacy is alive and well.

  • Sweetjae

    Rock of Peter and Vatican are not of the same topic thus you are still wrong and your answer is irrelevant and chilidish.

  • Cassandra

    Soper may have misinformed the Church Authorities which does happen, you know and he might have died somewhere in a remote part of the world. He may not be in Rome.
    Also the Pope would not necessary know?
    I agree with over the Filoque !

  • Cassandra

    I never know why JP II is regarded as great. 
    It is not only Marcel but other scandals in America which I am thinking about.

    When he was elected,I liked the man but by the end of his pontificate,my opinion of him had totally changed.

  • JabbaPapa

    The One True Faith is a matter of the Communion of our souls with God — not with your personal logic.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your heretical controversies are gifts from the devil.

    You are very far from the Kingdom.

    Shake off your chains of unholiness and give the plenitude of the love in your soul to God !!!

  • Jonathan West

    And what aspect of your personal logic allows you to know that it is the Catholic church, or rather the specific subset of it that you have defined above, which is the One True Faith?

  • scary goat

     Couldn’t reply above, too thin, so put it here.  Thanks for your reply.  Was going to add some more thoughts but got start of a cold, thumping head etc. so will come back to it another day.  Just wanted to acknowledge your reply so you didn’t think I was ignoring.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Scottish Socialist Party?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    You bandy the word “heretic” about all the time, but you clearly do not understand what it means. I too think the Novus Ordo “evil”, but in specific senses. In its effects, in its conception, in its departures from Catholic sacramental theology. Its content per se is, however, not evil. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Taumpj Thomaspj Poovathinkal

     
    ALL OF US HAVE TO DIE AND THEN WHY NOT DIE FOR JESUS the one who died for us?

    All the more it behoves US – WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO FOLLOW HIM – TO BE FAITHFUL TILL THE VERY END, TO REMAIN ON HIS CROSS TILL OUR LAST BREATH. we have all only ONE LIFE, giving it to HIM and taking it back from HIM midway FROM THE CROSS HE GAVE US!  o my God……

    THE PROMISE OF THE HEAVENLY REWARD FROM THE LORD: “…….BUT NOT WITHOUT PERSECUTIONS” I.E. THE CROSS.

    MERE intellectual spirituality makes us ALL COWARDS AND SO WE FLEE… O LORD, let it not happen even to my enemy.

    MY LORD JUSUS, be our  inspiration to follow you without any compromise or relativisation till the very END. JESUS MY LORD, MY LOVE, MY ONLY LOVE, MY TRUE LOVE,  I AM  MOST SOUL-TROUBLED AND IN TEARS, YOU PLEASE HELP OUR PREDICAMENT……Let it not happen…..

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Ah, you mean “not against Canon Law”. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    “Vicar”, not priest. A priest sacrifices.

  • scary goat

     In the clip above he didn’t sound like he was thumping the table and expounding the evils of the NO. He was talking about valid/licit (which I didn’t really understand) then the word “evil” just sort of slips in almost as an afterthought.  I didn’t think it was at all clear what he meant. 

  • Peter

    A deeper understanding of the scientific discoveries of the last 200 years is revealing that the ancient doctrines of the Catholic Church are true.

    Take evolution which predicts that animals have less intelligence than man because of less developed brains.

    There is however, no evidence of pride in the animal kingdom, even to a lesser degree among animals with less developed brains.

    Thus the precepts of evolution themselves assert that pride is not an evolved characteristic.

    If pride did not evolve from animals to man, there must have been a time when early man, out first parents, did not possess pride.

    This notion finds direct expression in the doctrine of original sin, when our first parents were innocent, untainted by pride and its sinful effects.

    It was only then that they committed the sin of pride by wanting to be like God, by wanting to decide for themselves the difference between good and evil.

    It is astonishing that a theory used for so long to disprove God actually reinforces his existence by supporting the Catholic doctrine of original sin.

  • Peter

    The “filioque” is not a controversy within the Roman Catholic Church, but rather between the Roman and Orthodox churches.

  • http://www.kremlin.ru/ The Great Stalin

    Which Cardinal? You mean Archbishop I think. Another piece of glaring inaccuracy from your learned pen ….

  • Jonathan West

     So, when is it going to get resolved?

  • Jonathan West

     If pride did not evolve from animals to man, there must have been a time when early man, out first parents, did not possess pride.

    Since there is evidence that various emotions including pride exist in animals other than man, you are proceeding from a false premise.

  • Peter

    Now that your original claim about about the internal cohesion of the Church has been refuted, you choose to ask me about Christian unity.

    This is another matter completely and the answer is, I don’t know.

  • Peter

    Evolution does predict emotions in animals, in diminishing degrees commensurate with their less developed brains, and this prediction is indeed borne out by evidence.

    However, pride is not an emotion, it is a state of mind.  At its fundamental level it is man’s willful refusal to accept any measure of right and wrong other than his own.

    There is no evidence in the animal kingdom of such a state of mind.

  • Cassandra

    Jonathan West is right. It is an internal matter of R.C. Have they understood the Orthodox objections. 
    The main objection is that it was put into the Creed without an agreement of an Ecumenical Council. It was put at the behest of a Holy Roman Emperor!!

  • Stephen

    Perhaps he has the humility to sacrifice his C of E pension.

  • Peter

    Do you have evidence of any division in the Roman Catholic Church because of it?

  • Jonathan West

    Well, the division with the orthodox church over it never did heal, did it? And then there are all the divisions with the protestant churches, still unresolved after all this time. And there doesn’t really seem to be any real prospect even of getting SSPX back into the church.

    So many divisions!

    Of course, once you have given up on either force or cajolery to get them back, then you can pretend they don’t really exist any more, a state of mind which allows you to ask “Do you have evidence of any division in the Roman Catholic Church because of it?”

  • JabbaPapa

    :-)

    Just explains the origins of the particular views that the Father has been expressing ; that does not mean one must agree with them, but it does make the job of understanding them more simple than it has been.

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s hard to know how to respond to the confusion of Cassandra and yourself — so I won’t try.

  • Peter

    Your original claim was:

    “There will be those in the church who refuse to fully accept the authority of the new Pope because they have doctrinal differences with him”

    Members of the Roman Catholic Church, and others in communion with the Rome, accept the authority of the Pope.

    These have no doctrinal differences with him.

    Those who do are neither in the Roman Catholic Church nor in communion with Rome.

    Your claim above is unfounded.

  • Jonathan West

    (reply to Peter)

    Members of the Roman Catholic Church, and others in communion with the Rome, accept the authority of the Pope.

    These have no doctrinal differences with him.

    Those who do are neither in the Roman Catholic Church nor in communion with Rome.

    Well, that’s basically just wishing the problem into nonexistence. First, there are those who remain within the Catholic Church who look for changes in its teachings on matters such as contraception. You appear either to think that this is not a doctrinal difference, or that such people don’t exist, or that they aren’t really Catholics.

    I gave the Filioque example earlier because the orthodox were catholics once, but there was a schism over Filioque. There have been innumerable other splits over the centuries within the Catholic church (and for that matter within the various protestant and other denominations) and nobody has come up with a way of gluing the pieces back together again.

    Your approach is to believe that after each split, the part of the church you are in is united and to treat the rest as not counting. If you want to practice this kind of self-deception then I shan’t try to stop you.

    One small question. Is Hans Küng within the Catholic church, and does he have any doctrinal differences with the Pope?

  • JabbaPapa

    Is Hans Küng within the Catholic church

    No.

    His public apostasies have automatically excommunicated him.

    The fact that he has not been formally excommunicated ferendae sententiae should not delude you into believing that Küng is a Catholic in good standing …

  • Jonathan West

     You do so like the No True Scotsman approach to Catholicism!

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh dear oh dear — the Catholicity is defined by orthodoxy.

    You’re the one claiming that these or those personal opinions provided by cultural, café, or lapsed “catholics” might somehow come from “part of the church”.

    NOPE — apostasies and heterodoxies and heresies, and the heretics who teach them, are not provided by any “part of the church” as such.

    Also, you clearly do not understand the nature of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, given the sheer number of times that you’ve found yourself with egg on your face after typing those three words out on your keyboard.

    Oh, and your untruthful claim that the Filioque has been a source of disagreement “within” the Catholic Church is similarly demonstrative of your constant inability to properly identify the Church.

  • Jonathan West

     So, anybody you think talks heresy is automatically excommunication and isn’t really in the church, even if they have the outward appearance of it.

    I suppose I can see how it makes you happier to think that, and enable you to believe that the church has no divisions, but your approach is one that tolerates no differences in view at all, and therefore if you exclude everybody who disagrees with you, you are going to end up very lonely.

    And if the church follows your ideas, it is going to end up very small.

    But the church doesn’t, otherwise Küng would have been excommunicated. but he hasn’t. he is still within the church. Therefore, my original question still stands, which is how religious differences can be resolved.

  • DavidB 1947

     These are specious points

    “1. There will be those in the church who refuse to fully accept the
    authority of the new Pope while Ratzinger remains alive, mistakenly
    confusing tradition with canon law.”

    Ridiculous. The situation is quite clear. Benedict XVI is no longer Pope. No such mistake is possible or likely.

    “2. There will be those in the church who refuse to fully accept the
    authority of the new Pope because they have doctrinal differences with
    him.”

    Possibly. The usual suspects. But if they declare publicly that they do not accept the Pope’s authority and have doctrinal differences with him, then they are placing themselves in a state of schism and should suffer the consequences.

    “3. There will be those outside (and inside) the church who consider
    that the moral authority of the church as a whole (and by extension the
    new Pope) has been fatally undermined by the clerical abuse scandal.”

    Yes, but the Church is not a club or a political party, it is a community of believers sharing a common faith, law, and tradition and serving their God together. All that is unshaken in the eyes of believers. Your exaggeration of blanket responsibility for the mistakes and crimes of individuals to the entire Church  is confused and unjust.Those who wish to leave the Church  or no longer believe in its teaching can and should go their own way. They are being disingenuous if they blame the Church for this. It is notable that these  critics do not apply this principle to (for instance) the BBC where it seems from what we are being told, that there was a much more radical level of abuse in the 1970s.

  • DavidB 1947

     Not exactly. They were once in communion with Rome. But they had many features of liturgy, language and tradition which distinguished them from the Latin church. The reasons for the ‘Great Schism’ go much deeper than the filioque clause.

  • Cassandra

    I suppose you aware the excommunications between the Orthodox Churches & Rome have been lifted.
    Therefore they are now part of the Catholic Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    ???

    No — in fact it means that the Orthodox Christians may, in the proper circumstances, take Holy Communion at Catholic Masses.

    My Godfather’s mother does so regularly.

  • Mark

    Let’s remember that in the Pope’s 2010 interview turned book “Light of the World,” Pope Benedict mentioned that he believed a Pope ought to resign if he was too old and frail to fulfill the duties of the office. He mentioned such even a few years before that because of JPII’s parkinsons situation; so obviously he was of the mind to resign if necessary from the very start. His belief is based on being a servant and about service not about his own status. He chose the good of the church over status.