The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain,” to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength.
—Benedict XVI, February 24, 2013
These words from the Holy Father rise above the confusion of the media feeding frenzy, tearing into every rumor, conspiracy theory and rash judgment about his abdication. I am not so naive as to think that the media circus should be surprising, nor am I scandalized that men should speak the sincere convictions concerning this matter. But there are risks involved in all of it.
Feeding the Monster
First, there is the rumor mill which ultimately serves no one but the media’s bottom line and the consumer’s basest desires. I will be the first to admit that the Church in general would be served by an ever more attentive transparency in regard to questions that pertain to the common good. This is only justice. Beyond this, from a purely pragmatic point of view, leaks and the consequent rumors could be prevented if the Vatican got in front of the problem. However, the rumors about a homosexual cabal in the Holy See somehow bringing about the abdication, so far are unsubstantiated.
It is no big revelation that we have a homosexual problem in the Catholic clergy. That this should extend itself far and wide and upwards should be no surprise. But the allegation that a Vatican homosexual network is precipitating the pope’s resignation requires something more than a single reporter’s account, one that does not seem to be based on direct knowledge of the report that was allegedly presented to the Holy Father. The closest the reporter allegedly got to the rumored report was to an unnamed source, “a man very close to the man who drafted the Report.” And all we learn from this man is that everything in the alleged report allegedly “centers on the non-observance of the 6th and 7th commandments.” Everyone else is simply regurgitating this information and extrapolating from it.
And then there are articles like the one from Vatican Insider that make claims without giving any indication whatever as to how they have come to know what they claim is true. According this article, on March 1 the cardinals will be briefed by those who drafted the report about its contents. No one is cited as a source for this information. [See update below].
Part or all of what is alleged may turn out to be true. But so far the reporting on the matter rises to the level of what one finds in a Hollywood tabloid. It is good for the news cycle and, I believe, serves even less honorable goals.
Cloak and Dagger
True to form, those who have brought us the interpretation of Vatican II as the work of Jews, Masons and Modernists, were also the ones to suggest immediately after the resignation announcement, that a homosexual cabal would try to take over:
Considering the dark influences that will try to reach even into the most secret places in the upcoming weeks of grave decisions for the Church, we thought, after having received the translated text from several Polish readers, that this is the right time to make it known to a larger audience among English speakers. We ask our readers to make this text as widely known as possible.
I have no doubt that there is a “homosexual underground” within the Catholic clergy. But it is, indeed, curious that a traditionalist source should, long before the alleged existence of a Vatican report was made public, suggest that the conclave would be under pressure from sodomites to choose a pope of their liking.
The continued existence of the traditionalist cause hinges on perpetuating the Virtual Council and of making sure that the faithful continue to live in fear of the future and in suspicion of the Holy Father. How convenient that the traditionalists have set the stage to reject orthodoxy of the next pope on a pretext if he does not meet their standards.
Judging the Judge
Understandably, Catholics across the globe have been stunned by the abdication. The emotional responses were inevitable. But the more reflective the response, the less emotional they have been, and the more ideological. Interestingly, the accusation that the Holy Father is abandoning ship has come from both the traditionalists and non-traditionalists (or “conservatives” as the trads call them).
The argument basically is that this decision is “radically revolutionary,” and a departure from the supernatural model of the pope as Vicar of Christ. According to this critique, the pope is refashioning the papacy according to a corporate or political model. Now the pope will be, they allege, just a CEO. One writer suggests that if the Holy Father can resign, then he can be forced to resign. According to these authors, the Holy Father has simply capitulated to an error in faith.
So writes the historian Professor Roberto de Mattei:
From the perspective of what the consequences of it might be, this gesture is not simply “innovative”, but radically “revolutionary”, as Eugenio Scalfari described it in the pages of La Repubblica on February 12. The image of the institution of the papacy in the eyes of public opinion throughout the world is in fact being stripped of its sacredness so as to be handed over to the criteria by which modernity judges things. It is no accident that in the Corriere della Sera on the same day, Massimo Franco speaks about an “extreme, final, irrevocable symptom of the crisis of a system of government and a form of papacy.”
If there is any measure of truth to what the professor says about “the image of the institution of the papacy in the eyes of public opinion throughout the world,” this will not be due to some negligence of the pope as much as to the political agendas of ideologues and propagandists like de Mattei. If the image of the papacy is lessened it will be because people have had better access to the opinions of the pundits than to the teaching of the pope. The problem is akin Vatican II’s teaching on collegiality. What the popes have made of it and what the rupturist propagandists have made of it are two different things.
Perhaps the master of the media will turn out to be Pope Benedict after all. On February 14, the Holy Father himself preemptively gave us the hermeneutical key to understanding what really is happening. In his unprecedented remarks to the Roman clergy he distinguished between the Council of the Fathers and the Council of the Media, or the Real Council and the Virtual Council.
So now we will have to distinguish between the Abdication according to the Holy Father and the Abdication according the Media, and between the Conclave of the Cardinals and the Conclave of the Media. Of course, this hermeneutical key will go largely ignored by those with their axes to grind. It can’t be helped, because they can’t help themselves.
There is no question that there are forces that are positively inimical to the Catholic faith that are actively engaged in an effort to sabotage the papacy, the conclave and the Church. But that is not really anything new. Is it?
Characteristic of the whole hullabaloo is a crisis of faith, which has influenced, not only the progressives and “conservatives,” but also the traditionalists as well. The Church does not belong to man, not to scholars, journalists or propagandists. It does not even belong to the pope. It belongs to God. But the Universal Pastor of the Church has, in the name of Christ, made a decision for the good of the Church. This decision was not made because he looks at that Church the way a CEO looks at a corporation, but because he has prayed and entrusted his decision to the Holy Spirit. In his judgment, the Church stands at a juncture where a man of greater strength of body and mind than he is needed. Perhaps that is precisely the answer, the one most in keeping with respect for the pope, and the one most worth pondering.
This is a good Lent. We have a great opportunity to mortify ourselves. May we look forward, accordingly, to a very blessed Easter and a new pontificate.
It is in moments such as these that Catholics are called to focus on what is essential: to pray for Pope Benedict, to pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the College of Cardinals, to pray for the future Pope, trusting that the fate of the barque of St. Peter is in the hands of God.
—Secretary of State communiqué on Conclave, February 23, 2013
Updates: The Vatican Insider scoop does not pan out. The Vatileaks report is real, but its contents will not be discussed with the college of cardinals:
The Holy Father has decided that the acts of this investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope.
Also, the motu proprio was just released modifying the rules for the conducting of the conclave and the election of the Roman Pontiff. Most news sources make reference to the change in the rule allowing the election to take place less than fifteen days after the See is vacant if all the cardinals are present. However, most of the changes seem to pertain to maintaining the secrecy and independence of the conclave. It appears the Holy Father is concerned about information traveling both ways.