NEWS:  August 31, 2000

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

HERMIT IN POLAND - The rumors are growing in Rome about an upcoming resignation of John Paul II. From various sources, news of this type is being circulated. Here are excerpts from an interview of Giancarlo Zizola with the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo (June 27, 2000). Zizola is one of the most renowned Vatican specialists in Italy. His pieces are published in Italian and international papers. Further, he is the author of ten books on contemporary religious subjects, among them his recently released work titled The Reform of the Papacy, and The Successor (1995).

"The debate about the choice of a new Pope began at least five years ago, precisely when I published my book [The Sucessor]," commented Zizola in the June interview. "Everyone is speaking openly about this in the corridors of the Vatican and in meetings of ecclesiastical authorities. It is the topic of the moment."

The Vatican specialist then enters into the question of what would lead John Paul II to retire: "Conscious of his own impotence in face of a great [future] transformation, he is doing what he can do. For example, after having written an encyclical that deals with the subject of the reform of the Papacy, and after having inserted regulations for the election of a Pope into the electoral laws on a Church conclave, he created a new clause. From now on, the election of a Pope can be carried out not only when a Pope dies, but also in the case of the resignation of a Pontiff. For me, the inclusion of this clause is an important sign. During his last trip to his homeland, Poland, John Paul II decided to make a spiritual retreat. Doing this, he tried to send a message that …. he could retire to live in an old and simple monastery. I think that with this gesture he wanted to warn us about what will take place after the Jubilee: his resignation. He wrote this regulation and I believe that he will be the one who will probably apply it for the first time. In case this happens, it will be a great opening, a first step for the reform of the Papacy."

It does not seem superfluous to raise some questions here that the text suggests, which could help us to understand the future possibilities.

Would the next Pope be designated by John Paul II while the latter is still in possession of the papal powers? In this case, what would be the juridical standing of the new delegated Pope? Would he have the fullness of papal powers? In turn, would the resigning Pope continue to possess the powers so that he could re-enter the picture, should it be necessary? Or would he renounce all the powers? It was always taught that the Papacy is a lifelong office. What would be the situation of the Catholic Church with two Popes: a delegated Pope and a retired Pope? If it is possible to have two Popes, why wouldn't it be possible to have three or four? The perspective is that of growing confusion.

The resignation of a Pope who judges himself incapable of continuing to govern the Church in itself contains a contradictory element. In effect, resignation would be necessary if the incapacity is notorious, as in the case of St. Celestine V, who obviously was unable as he showed in the five months he governed the Church. However, nowadays it would be John Paul II himself, who has directed the Church for more than 20 years, who would be attesting to his incapacity. Now, if he can judge who would no longer be capable, he is in full possession of his mental capacities. Only in this case would his act of resignation be valid. That is to say, his incapacity would not be proved. What would be proved is that he has judged it convenient to resign, even though he is still capable. In these conditions, one would have the establishment of resignation by personal convenience, and not for notorious incapacity. If this were accepted, it would mean the virtual establishment of a rotating Papacy, with a term of office that lasts for as long a time as a Pontiff would want to exercise his functions. This would open the door to a periodical Papacy, as many progressivists desire.

ANTI-AMERICAN POPE - In the same interview, responding to a question about the characteristics of the new Pope, Zizola affirms: "What the characteristics of a new Pope would be is not being discussed so much as finding an heir to John Paul II .... The new Pope needs to confront the problem of the critical relationship with the American global empire. In a certain way, John Paul II initiated a conflict or tension with the United States. First, with regard to the Gulf war, and afterwards, the Balkans war; also with regard to the death penalty, the subject of family and sexuality, ecological problems, justice, the external debt [of Third World countries], etc. In none of these cases did John Paul II stop taking a strong position divergent from the North American policy. I would almost dare to say that a new conflict exists between the Papacy and the Empire. But this time, the conflict would not be based solely on the rights and politics of the Church, but on the rights of man."

BRAVO - In his July 9 Angelus address, Pope John Paul II adopted a laudable position in relation to the homosexual meeting that took place in Rome (July 1-9). He called the event an "affront to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000." After that, he affirmed that the World Gay Pride 2000 marked an "offense to the Christian values of a city so dear to the heart of Catholics from all over the world." Finally, the Pope emphasized Church teaching on homosexuality, which holds that homosexual acts "are contrary to the natural law" (The Tidings, July, 14). Since Vatican Council II, as far as I can recall, this is the first time that the pontifical authority or another Vatican authority has classified the homosexual vice as "contrary to the natural law." I have asked myself why this qualification which Church teaching has always employed on this topic was being avoided. With pleasure I salute this fleeting return of John Paul II to perennial Catholic militancy. I hope that there will be many other such incidences.

SAD SPRINGTIME - The U.S. Catholic Bishops held a three-hour public discussion on the growing shortage of priests. It was the first time they publicly considered the topic. The data for the discussion was supplied by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate based at Georgetown University. The latest survey results indicate that the situation is worsening, contrary to past assurances that the problem had bottomed out and we were on the way to recovery.

In 1965, the year that Vatican Council II adjourned, there were 58,132 priests in the U.S., ministering to 46.6 million Catholics. Today there are 46,709 priests (a decline of 20 percent) and 62.4 million Catholics (an increase of 34 percent). This downward trend is expected to continue throughout the coming decade. Major Archdioceses around the country, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, are ordaining fewer than ten new priests this year. Meanwhile, the priests who are currently on the job are facing mounting pressures in their own pastoral situations. Based on discussions recorded from 18 focus groups around the country, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton reported that many priests are expressing feelings of inadequacy, stress and physical exhaustion.

While the Bishops are to be commended for addressing the problem of the growing shortage of priests, it is a source of some discouragement, but not surprise, that so many of the Prelates continued to "round up the usual suspects" when challenged to offer an explanation [scandals involving sexual misconduct; the gay character that seminaries have taken; the loneliness of a priest's life; the increasing competition of other careers offering better opportunities to capable persons]. Eventually the Bishops will have to deal openly with some of the real reasons for the shortage of vocations to the priesthood. But to their credit, they have at least begun the discussion.

All the data and commentaries of this report are taken straight from the analysis of Fr. Richard McBrien (The Tidings, July 14). I only added the subtitle.

PIE IN THE SKY? - Since I am citing Fr. McBrien, let me also point out an interesting commentary from April, which I have not had the opportunity to comment on in this column. Regarding the requests for pardon that the Pope is making, McBrien put himself in the position of one who defends John Paul II against those who find him very moderate (!) and who would demand even more radical requests for pardon. From this perspective, he goes on to pose reasons for the Pontiff's "moderation." The first is that in the Vatican the Pope is confronting a wave of Cardinals who are opposed to the requests for pardon. The second and more interesting reason would be that the distinction commonly used by the present day Vatican between the sins of the children of the Church and the sins of the Church is only a theoretical distinction.

These are McBrien's words: "The Pope and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have tried to address the principal concern by distinguishing between the Church 'as such' and her 'sons and daughters.' Their argument is that sin can only be imputed to individual members of the Church. The Church herself is beyond moral indictment .... For many, this is a distinction without a difference. The sins, after all, were not committed by renegade Catholics acting entirely on their own. The Crusades, for example, were papally organized and sponsored, and so was the Inquisition. Pius II agreed to lead a crusade himself in 1463, but died before the ships were launched. Pius V built a new palace for the Inquisition and personally attended its sessions" (The Tidings, April 7, 2000).

In the ambiguity of the Vatican position, one can see that by asking pardon for the children of the Church, and not for the Church, there is the contradictory element that McBrien points out. The question that comes to the mind of anyone who reads this analysis is this: Did the Vatican coin this distinction in order to avoid conservative reactions, at the same time leaving a door open for interpretations of the McBrien type, which will thus calm the more demanding progressivist parties? It seems to me a legitimate question. I do not have elements to go beyond the question.




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