Changing of the Papal Guard
After Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement yesterday, a friend and former colleague quipped on Facebook: “Jerry Lavey writes a column harshly critical of the Church’s top hierarchy and the next day the Pope resigns. I’m impressed.” Thought you’d like thatJ
However, like everyone else, I was surprised at the announcement and have been inhaling articles from the newspapers and other media outlets ever since. It’s what we junkies do. And as one with a blog titled “Matters of Church and State,” I could hardly avoid a comment or two in the wake of this momentous development, even though I will admit up front I don’t have anything momentous to add.
That said, I did read interesting articles in the Washington Post today by columnists E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Melinda Henneberger and reporter Michelle Boorstein. New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein also had a good article on the “turbulent tenure of a quiet scholar.” These columns and articles include observations by Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., former editor of America, and John Allen, who covers the Vatican up close and personal for the National Catholic Reporter. These two experts on the Church and the Vatican are particularly well worth listening to.
I have mixed feelings about Benedict. Unlike his extroverted predecessor, John Paul II, who I think set the Church back several generations, if not more, Benedict was like a fish out of water. He himself reportedly voiced doubts whether he should have accepted the post in the first place. He was, and is, a scholar, very bookish and not cut out to manage the Curia, the Byzantine bureaucracy which left unbridled actually runs the Church at its peril, let alone set a course for the 21st Catholic Church of more than one billion members.
Someone said that Benedict’s greatest legacy will be his books, specifically his three-volume series JESUS OF NAZARETH. That’s an odd legacy for a Pope who you would think had little time for reflection on major issues confronting the Church, let alone write books. But, that reinforces my impression that Benedict left the running of the Church to the Curia, with disastrous results, and retreated to the world of scholarship where he was more comfortable.
I have read the first volume in his JESUS OF NAZARETH series, and surprisingly I found it very good and not at all what you would expect from “God’s Rottweiler,” as Benedict was referred to by some of his harshest critics. In this book, and in his encyclicals, the overriding theme I get is God’s love and forgiveness, not punishment or retribution.
My overall impression is that Benedict was caught in a dilemma: Between his moderate progressive approach that he exhibited as an expert theological adviser at Vatican II, along with his then friend Hans Kung, who later became very critical of Benedict, and his later position as John Paul II’s enforcer of strict traditional Catholic teaching.
But, now the question is: Who is waiting in the wings to take his place? In making that choice, I suggest the Cardinals take note of the advice of Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J. as reported by Michelle Boorstein in today’s Post. “In the last two enclaves, they’ve elected the smartest man in the room. It might be better to elect someone who will listen to all the other smart people in the church.”
Chances are, though, that we won’t see much of a change, if any, because John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointed the vast majority of Cardinals, all traditional, conservative types. Yet, some of us recall the “safe choice” that Cardinal Angelo Roncalli seemed to represent when he became Pope John XXIII in 1958. Yet, he turned the Church upside down when he convened Vatican II and unleashed a host of reforms that scared the wits out of the conservatives and traditionalists. The reforms of Vatican II have still to be fully realized and some of them were shunted aside. But, still a great stirring of hope occurred and for many of us it charted a whole new path.
Regardless of what happens in the selection of the next Pope, Catholic priests will still be ministering to the poor in barrios, Catholic nuns will be caring for the sick and the homeless, as well as teaching our at-risk youth, and lay Catholics around the world will be trying to live out their Catholic faith by loving and caring for their fellow human beings, who don’t have a clue or care about what is happening in Rome over the next month or so.