Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict Opts Out

Tweet of the Day, from Patton Oswalt via The Hollywood Reporter:

  1. Wait...ex-Pope? X-POPE! Oh shit, I gotta pitch this to Marvel.#eyelasers
As you've no doubt heard, Pope Benedict XVI has exercised his rights under Canon 332 and announced his resignation, effective on February 28.  He says that, at 85 years old, he does not feel strong enough, in mind or body, to continue his work.  He will retire to Castelgondolfo and, after that, to a monastery in Rome.  (Announcement here, via Time.)

Already 78 when he was elected, Joseph Ratzinger was widely expected to be a short-term pope, essentially a caretaker of John Paul II's legacy.  Frankly, he has been much more than that.  Where John Paul was a conservative, who shared (for example) Ratzinger's dislike of the then-trendy liberation theology and disciplined its advocates, Benedict has proven to be a traditionalist, concerned to restore traditions, particularly liturgical ones, which had been falling into abeyance since Vatican II.  It's not just the red shoes; it is his strong support for the return of the Latin Mass and his indirect supervision of a revised English translation.  We ourselves are particularly moved by his defense of the east-facing Eucharistic celebration.

Critics have been fierce.  Long ago, Ratzinger was part of the Hitler Youth, and drafted into the German Army.  At Regensburg, he famously spoke of Islam in a way which might have been appropriate for a professor goading complacent pupils, but which was shocking and almost disastrous for the world's most prominent Christian leader.  His treatment of sexual predators among the clergy will probably be debated for generations to come, like the role of Pius XII in handling the Nazis.  On one hand, as a cardinal he had urged John Paul to take a stronger lead in disciplining these monsters; on the other hand, he is part of a generation that thought of pedophilia as a series of discrete acts, to be confessed and forgiven (and, shamefully, hidden from public scrutiny), rather than as an essentially incurable condition.  In this regard, we hope there will be no more like him.

The Ordinariates, those international clubs for erstwhile Anglicans, are a reflection of Benedict's peculiar understanding of the Vatican II ecumenical agenda.  They are essentially an occidental version of the old "uniate" churches, a means of offering unity to Orthodoxy by bringing it under submission to Roman authority.  This has been a failure in the East, and we don't expect it will bear any better fruit in the West.  (But we may be wrong.)

Despite our own criticisms, we have greatly preferred Benedict to John Paul.  This is precisely because of John Paul's widely-hailed charisma and theatricality.  They made him beloved the world over, particularly by young people, but our life's experience has led us to dread charismatic leadership, most of all in the Church.  We much prefer Benedict's awkward, professorial, even antiquarian approach.

In case you wondered, it is very rare for a pope to resign.  Previous instances have included Pontian in 235, who was arrested and sent to the salt mines, and Celestine V in 1294, a hermit who found himself unable to deal with the Curia. (Background here.) The last example was Gregory XII, whose resignation helped to end the three-way "Avignonese" schism.  (Noteworthy tidbit:  anti-pope John XXIII also resigned in 1415, but anti-pope Benedict XIII did not, and was excommunicated.  It would not surprise us to learn that Benedict XVI has spent a long time thinking about these men and their legacies.)

New York Times 
Guardian on the conclave


Anonymous said...

Wait, was John Paul from the AELC? web

Father Anonymous said...

Maybe not. But a notable chunk of the AELC did seem to flock to him.

mark said...

See also: