Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict's Resignation: No Need for AntiPope Containment

Crusty awoke this morning and discovered it was one of those rare days when religion invades the news cycle, and, for once, not having something to do with homosexuality and sexual misconduct by clergy.  Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective February 28. COD was glad this was not a Leap Year, so the Pope wouldn't have to serve that extra day before the end of the month.

COD found himself pondering several aspects to this revelation:

1)  whether Popes can resign,
2)  whether something else is going on, and
2)  an initial assessment of Benedict's papacy.

As for (1), of course Popes can resign.  The Code of Canon Law which governs the Catholic Church contains provisions for this, in the 1917 and revised 1983 versions.  Depending on how you count, perhaps upwards of 10 Popes have resigned -- Crusty says "depending" because some of these "resignations" were depositions by various German Emperors, or Popes resigning due to charges of misconduct against them.  Honest-to-goodness resignations, with the incumbent legitimately resigning the office freely, are more rare.

AntiPope Containment Unit
The two most recent are Pope Gregory XII in 1415 and Celestine V in 1294.  Gregory XII is a particularly illuminating example:  the church had been rocked by the so-called Great Schism since 1378, when rival popes were elected, one residing in Rome, the other in Avignon.  This caused a bit of a kerfuffle, so say the least; since's one's salvation rested in being subject to the Roman pontiff (see Unam Sanctam, 1302), which one was the right one? Most everyone agreed the Schism wasn't a good thing, but weren't sure how to solve it.  One of the solutions put forward by leading canonists and theologians was for the Popes to resign and a new one elected.  A group of cardinals, frustrated by the situation, elected a third Pope, hoping that the other Popes would do precisely this.  Naturally, they did not, so it resulted for a decade or so with there being three Popes.  In a gracious gesture, Gregory XII resigned to help clear the way, thinking that there needed to be a clean slate.  John XXIII, the last of the three popes standing tried to get the church council that met to solve the schism to elect him Pope, but, when it became clear they wouldn't, he tried to flee, was tracked down, caught, and deposed by the church council.  The reason there was another John XXIII (1958-1963) is that the previous John XXIII was declared an antipope.  Nothing in Canon Law about whether a massive explosion occurs when Popes and Anti-Popes mix (like in Star Trek, when it always seemed matter and anti-matter were always about to crash into each other and end the galaxy).

Celestine V is the other classic example of a pope resigning.  He was, by all account, an elderly, pious,  monk when elected at age 79 or 80.  Overwhelmed by the office, he resigned barely six months into the papacy.  Retirement did not go so well for him.  His successor, worried someone might try to place Celestine back on the papal throne, had him imprisoned for the rest of his life.  Some scholars also identify him as the figure in Dante's Inferno (III. 59-60) who was sentenced there for his cowardice.

The reason for some modern consternation about popes resigning stems from Paul VI, who, as Thomas Reese noted in his piece for the National Catholic Reporter, opined that "paternity cannot be resigned." During John Paul II's pontificate, numerous rumors swirled during his different health crises that resignation was imminent.  COD was working as a hospital chaplain in a Roman Catholic hospital the summer of 1994, and gossip among the Catholic priests on staff reached an almost fevered pitch about a possible Papal resignation due to ill health.

So yes, Popes can, have, and will resign.

2)  The rumor mill is already swirling that maybe there were other reasons for Benedict's resignation: one that seems to be in the twittoblogofacesphere is that he is somehow implicated in sexual misconduct coverups, either from his time as Archbishop of Munich or as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Crusty sincerely doubts this -- not because he doesn't believe Benedict might have done some things which reflect poorly on him; there's plenty in the public domain already, and the Vatican already turned Holy Week 2010 into a pep rally for the Pope.  This is an organization which has resisted calls for resignation of senior bishops clearly compromised far more than Benedict.  Only one prelate, Bernard Law, resigned his see, and in turn he was rewarded with a plum position in Rome and still entrusted with a say in the committee which selects new bishops.  There's a bishop in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops with a criminal conviction on his record, for God's sake (the Bishop of Kansas City).  If no other figures have been asked to resign or be held accountable, except for Law, why should we imagine suddenly the person at the top would resign?

If anything else is going on, COD suspects it has to do with Benedict's health.  He has looked noticeably older in recent months, can no longer walk down the main aisle during services at St Peter's. A well-connected friend of Crusty's passed along a rumor a couple of months ago that the Pope had had a stroke, but COD didn't give it much credence because it seems there's always something in the papal rumor mill.  But maybe he does have health complications that are not being revealed.

So on to (3), an initial assessment of his papacy.   Crusty's initial thought it is: mission accomplished.  Now, first off, not that Crusty is particularly pleased with that assessment.  But let's go back to 2005, when the enclave was meeting to elect a successor to John Paul II.  If Crusty had been blogging then, he would have made three points about what he thought the cardinals were looking for in a new pope:

a)  someone with strong managerial credentials.  There were some who felt John Paul II spent too much time traveling and speaking; combined with his extended health issues, this led to a leadership drift.  Just like in a congregation with a long gap between pastors, when committees and factions in the congregation step into that vacuum and begin running things, many felt someone needed to come in and have a firmer organizational hand in the many departments and factions in the Vatican.
b)  someone with strong theological credentials; there were some who felt, despite all his gifts, John Paul was not forceful enough theologically.  For example, while he reached out to Jews and Muslims, there were those who felt the theological issues in interreligious dialogue were not being given enough attention.
c)   someone older:  having emerged from the long and charismatic shadow of John Paul II, nobody wanted another 25-year papacy; rather, an older Pope with the above credentials could be a good transitional figure.

Lots of rumors swirled in 2005:  would it be an African or South American, reflecting the increasing diversity and globalization?  COD thought those folks were dreaming, and, had he had a place to put down a bet, it would have been on a conservative European cardinal.  And Crusty was not surprised at all to see Cardinal Ratzinger emerge on that balcony.

Thus COD's initial assessment:  they got what they elected.  An older theological conservative with extensive managerial experience.  COD will leave it to the real Vatican insiders to break down Benedict's legacy in the Catholic Church, he will reflect on one aspect where he did have some contact:  the Catholic Church's ecumenical engagement with other Christians.  Crusty did served as Ecumenical Officer for the Episcopal Church during his pontificate, after all, and helped to coordinate relationships with the Catholic Church.

Put simply, Benedict was at the forefront of a great ecumenical reordering and retrenchment.  This is a Pope whose prominent ecumenical "successes" include:

1)  working to heal the breach with the Society of St Pius X, a conservative break-away from the Roman Catholic  Church.  Crusty wishes the Pope spent as much time trying to heal the breach with other Christian bodies that didn't have bishops who denied the Holocaust.

2)  establishing Ordinariates for those Episcopalians and Anglicans to be received into the Catholic Church.  Well, not so much the Ordinariates themselves because

a) there had been something like this before, a Pastoral Provision which allowed Episcopal and Anglican priests to become Roman Catholics, remain married, and still use an Anglican Rite.
b)  the Catholic Church is free to do whatever it wants, Crusty sure doesn't ask their approval for what Episcopalians do.

Rather, Crusty was bothered because of the way this was presented as an outgrowth of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, because, while the Catholic Church has every right to do this, it was and is as profoundly un-ecumenical action, taken without consultation or discussion with Anglicans, and because it is a reassertion that the only acceptable form of full communion with the Roman Catholic Church is reintegration and return.

John Paul II, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, wanted to have a conversation about how the ministry of the Pope could be in the service of Christian unity.  Crusty still longs to have that conversation, but isn't holding his breath.

Farewell, Benedict; maybe retirement will treat you better than it did Celestine V.  And I will keep praying for my Catholic brothers and sisters.

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