Well, I’ll be.

Our internet is near dead so I am using a phone to blog. Strange it feels.

I have also been busy instructing a confirmand so this is yet to sink in.

What strikes me? A Jesuit pope. It is unprecedented especially given the folklore precluding a Jesuit pope.

He is 76, only a year younger than Benedict at his election. Youth has not appealed. What does this reveal of the cardinals’ thinking?  A short term pope? So was John XXIII!

Francis? Surely after Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary and ideal saint for the New Evangelization. By choosing a new name is he signalling he is to be his own man?

He is non-curial, and Jesuits are adept at confronting the Curia. Reform is in the air.

He is Argentine. Expect that country to harp even more on the Falklands.

Viva il papa!

More when I can use a real keyboard!


Is it just me? The entrée to the conclave

Conclave 2013
Conclave 2013

No doubt I was not alone watching a live feed of the opening rites of the conclave. Was I alone in my impressions?

As each Eminence took the oath, there was something profoundly moving to see each one make his promise to God, and before the face of the whole Church. The live feed enabled Christians in every land to watch in real time this solemn process. The new media have allowed us to be, if not present at, then present to the cardinals as they enter conclave. It was a truly international moment.

This internationality was fostered by the use of Latin. How confusing would it have been to have each cardinal use his native tongue? Since the oath is in effect a public event, witnessed by the Church, how could we have known each man had made the correct oath in his language? During the proceedings, how would the precedence among the languages have been decided without someone feeling slighted on behalf of his conlinguists? No, if ever there was a powerful argument for Latin as a language for the international Church, this was certainly one. An element of charm was added  by the different accents and pronunciations: the francophones rendering tango as “tongo”, or the germanophones using a hard “g” in evangelium, for example.

The broadcast revealed a wonderful mixture of the old and the new, technology and ancient ritual, the timeless present in this time. Such is the Church.

Anyway, Eminences. God bless you and guide you. We’re watching… and waiting…

Of conclaves, popes and popes emeriti

The news that Tuesday 12 March sees the start of the conclave to elect Benedict XVI’s successor is a great relief. For me, the conclave comes in a week in which I have a lot to be doing. Yet, how does one carry on writing retreat conferences with this great event overshadowing the daylight hours?

pope alarmOne big difference between this conclave and the previous is that way in which it will be covered and the results of its deliberations disseminated. This will be, and the sede vacante already confirms this, a period dominated by the new social media. The mainstream media have their place, but they no longer have the monopoly, indeed they might not even wield the strongest influence. I have got a Twitter account going now primarily to tap into its great strength: instantaneous news flashes. With some judicious following (one does not “subscribe” on Twitter, one follows) anyone can have a dozen little boxes flash up within seconds of each other, merely a few more seconds after the black or white smoke pours out of the Sistine smokestack. In fact, the selfsame chimney has its own Twitter account – @ConclaveChimney. Or there is the more prosaic Papal Smoke Alarm – @PopeAlarm. The Papal Smoke Alarm also has a Facebook page, and a website where you can subscribe to get the news sent instantly to you by email or (for North Americans only) by text message. Someone can tweet “White smoke” before the mainstream media can put their coffee mugs down. Millions of us will know the colour of the smoke long before the mainstream media can get a radio or TV broadcast out. They no longer control the breaking of news.

Pope twitter

Of course, we will want to watch the Petrine balcony as the Cardinal steps out to make the announcement. In 2005 a radio broadcast tipped off the brethren here to rush down to the TV room for the BBC live feed. The BBC, Sky News, CNN etc will all have live video feeds on the internet no doubt, making such a dash unnecessary this time around. But Vatican Radio’s website will probably have a live feed too (they did for the daily press conferences). Maybe also News.va. Someone might even set up a live Youtube feed from his or her vantage point in St Peter’s Square. The mainstream media will not control the live vision of the announcement.

Think back to Benedict’s last address to the clergy of Rome, after he announced his intention to abdicate. He spoke of the council of the media, which controlled the dissemination of the Second Vatican Council’s news and teachings to the world, and to the Church as well. The portrait of the Council the people then saw was shaped and coloured by the media’s agenda. The world saw, said Benedict, not the real Council but the virtual council of the media. He called on the Church to re-discover and re-claim the real Council.

Certainly, at this conclave, we will not be forced to settle for a virtual conclave, reported through the agenda of the mainstream media. We can behold the real conclave through any number of independent reporters through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, blogs… you get the idea. It will be an icon of the mission to reclaim the real Council.

Benedict’s new title

Earlier I noted with great satisfaction Cardinal Cocopalmerio’s announcement of Benedict’s style in retirement. Then a few days later I noted with consternation the Vatican spokesman’s rival title, or titles in fact, for he seemed not to know which if his two versions was the right one.

So of the three options – Bishop Emeritus of Rome, Pope Emeritus or Pontiff Emeritus – which is the correct one? Chi sa? as the Italians might say… (or is it Chi lo sa?). Prominent Vaticanista Sandro Magister is stirring the pot, as he often does, by covering the opinion of Carlo Fantappiè. He raises the larger issue of the troublesome ambiguities in having what might be construed as two popes. It is worth a read.

Anyway, for the moment my money is on Cardinal Cocopalmerio’s “His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome” seems sounder and more authoritative. CocoChanel … oops… Cocopalmerio is Prefect for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, so he has some weighty canonical clout. His announcement satisfied the significant concerns: it made it clear that “Pope” was no longer of Benedict’s title, but also it acknowledged that there is something that endures in a man one he has occupied Peter’s throne. The essential thing about “emeritus” is that is signifies retention of the status but not the power of an office. A bishop emeritus is still a bishop, with all his sacramental powers, but he has no jurisdiction, exercises no authority for governance in the Church. But for St Peter’s successor, the title “pope” goes with that petrine office of universal governance and jurisdiction.

Yet, I would argue, there is surely an indelible imprint left after holding the keys of the kingdom. Though hardly the fruit of systematic reflection, a category does present itself to my mind. We cannot speak of a sacramental character in the papacy, of course, as we can for Baptism or Ordination. So maybe this indelible imprint of the keys on the papal hand could be termed, very loosely and tentatively, a Petrine character. The nuances involved seem to be well reflected in His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome.

The next Pope?

There are too many links to include here without turning the post psychedelic with coloured links. Yet if you do some Googling you will find that a goodly number of cardinals are being touted as, if not favourites, then at least very attractive and adequate candidates. Cardinal Turkson was an early favourite, his African origins offering the tantalising prospect of a third-world pope. Sadly the poster campaign in his favour now underway in Rome may have scotched his candidacy: the merest hint of public campaigning is taboo. Furthermore, there is an undercurrent in the life of the African Church, especially among the clergy, that is troubling, and casts a shadown of any African cardinal. Cardinals Scola and Ouellet are seen as cut from the same theological cloth as Benedict and likely to embrace his legacy, but their being near favourites does rather call to mind the adage, He who enters the conclave a pope, leaves it a cardinal. Cardinal Schönborn is also a theologian in the Ratzinger tradition, but the chaos in his Austrian Church would weigh heavily against him. Cardinal Ravasi is another attractive figure, but there is a question as to whether another Italian is desirable (which counts against Scola as well). In recent days the Brazilian Cardinal Scherer has been gaining attention, though there is the whiff of scandal attaching to his name as word spreads that Brazilian clerics have been encouraging the media to talk  up his candidacy. Cardinals Dolan and Burke are mentioned increasingly too, by those who think the time has come for an American. Dolan is personable; Burke is hard-core Ratzingerian and liturgically minded.

Ultimately most people predict who they would prefer as pope, a phenomenon especially obvious in the mainstream media. To state one’s preference is probably the more respectable way to proceed. There are so many promising candidates that, for me, it seems necessary to apply a more exhaustive set of criteria. What name do I come up with, according to my agenda?


Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith ticks many boxes indeed. He is Archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka, so he ticks the third-world and pastoral boxes. Indeed, he had positive input into the peace process in Sri Lanka between Tamils and Sinhalese, so he is something of a peacemaker. He has worked in the curia in recent years, so he knows how it works. He had a tough time there by many accounts, so he may be up to giving it a healthy dose of reform. He is very liturgical, in the tradition of Benedict XVI, and would be likely to further the Benedictine plan of action for the liturgy of the Church. His preaching style is much admired for its directness and accessibility. Being about 66 years old, he is of an ideal age in many respects.

So… you never know!

Cardinals’ biographies – if you’re interested

The Vatican website has helpfully posted brief biographies of all the cardinal electors (and, on another page, all the cardinals, electors or not).

It is principally intended for the press, but available to all. Given Benedict’s warning to us about the role of the media in distorting the Church’s understanding of the Council, maybe we should take the first step and read these biographies ourselves before we see any media “interpretation” of them. Click the picture below.

Image 001

Pope Benedict changes conclave rules

news vaIn a motu proprio released today by the Holy Father (though dated last Friday) several paragraphs are modified or replaced in the apostolic constitution governing conclaves, Universi Dominic gregis (UDG), issued by Pope Bl John Paul II in 1996. Pope Benedict’s decree, Normas nonnullas (NN), makes three significant changes, quoted from the News.va site:

By a modification to paragraph n. 37 of UDG

      : Pope Benedict XVI allows for the College of Cardinals to begin the Conclave before fifteen days have passed from the beginning of the period sede vacante, provided that all voting Cardinals are present. The modification also provides that the Conclave must begin no more than twenty days after the beginning of the sede vacante, even if all the electors are not present.

By a modification to paragraph n. 48

      : The oath of secrecy is extended to the individuals mentioned in Paragraph 55,2, among whom are the two “trustworthy technicians” who have the task of assisting the competent officers of the College in assuring that no audio-visual equipment for recording or transmitting has been installed by anyone in the areas mentioned, and particularly in the Sistine Chapel itself, where the acts of the election are carried out.

By a modification to the text of paragraph 55,3

      : The punishment for any violation of the oath of secrecy is to be excommunication latae sententiae
        (the old text provided for “grave penalties according to the judgment of the future Pope”).

The new norms now allow a conclave to be held earlier than 15 March, provided all the cardinal electors are in Rome. The technicians who will sweep for electronic recording and broadcasting devices are now also required to swear the oath of secrecy, given that they will most likely be privy to the deliberations of the conclave with little restriction. This effectively closes a loophole. In light of this, and perhaps as a possible cautionary slap to the increasingly trouble-prone cardinals, the sentence for a breach of this oath is no longer left to the discretion of the future pope, but is specified as automatic excommunication.

There are no shocks here. The Holy Father is clearly trying to facilitate an expeditious conclave free from outside influence, not least that of the secular media.

Papal Abdication – how things stand

There is so much being written about the abdication of Pope Benedict that it is difficult to get a handle on how things stand with both his move and preparations for the future. What follows is an attempt to discern the state of play, but it may well be obsolete by the time it is posted!

There has been, not surprisingly, a great deal of discussion about Pope Benedict’s motives for abdicating, and also about what impact this will have on the conclave.

What is becoming more openly accepted by all except the extreme fringe of secular society is that the pope is not fleeing the clerical abuse crisis. Despite the withering assault of the mainstream media, and reheated stale untruths about, for example, his role in the Fr Murphy affair in Milwaukee, anyone who looks calmly at the record of verifiable facts will see that Pope Benedict has acted firmly against the culture of abuse, spoken strongly in condemnation of it and sought to heal this wound in the life of the Church and its members. It would be strange indeed for him to withdraw from the fray when he is beginning to make positive gains in the crisis. He has weathered the worst of the storm already; and we know he is not afraid to stand his ground and speak the truth. Even some who do not normally support the Pope have written in his defence on this matter.

What seems to have prompted the pope to move now is that the Church is in a period of relative calm, and because he feels his stamina significantly flagging. There is the possibility that there is an undisclosed medical crisis, and the curia is not shy of keeping such matters secret, as they did when the pope had a fall last year during his trip to Mexico and Cuba. But given the gravity of his actions, it is hard to see why the pope would keep any medical crisis secret.

The Pope’s brother Georg is consistently stating that the Pope is acting in light of his failing powers and for the good of the Church. Many are reading into this a sign that the infighting of the curia has taken its toll on the pope and he feels unable to overcome it. The Vatileaks scandal revealed much of the curial tension; and in recent days Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, has apparently acted to reverse a decision made by the recently appointed head of the CDF, Archbishop Mueller, in the matter of a formerly Catholic university in Lima. The picture that is slowly emerging is of a curia, and some parts of the wider Church, which are not supporting the pope as they should, but in fact undermining him and his mission. It seems he has discerned that a younger and more vigour hand needs to rein in the various faction in the curia, and the wider Church. He has not the energy to do it, and it is a challenge that must be faced for the good of the Church. I imagine it is this sort of information that will filter through to the cardinals in greater detail, and it will inform their deliberations in conclave. The new pope will have an implicit mission from the cardinals to deal with the curial divisions firmly and quickly.

Going by the Vatican bulletin released today, it will be left to the new pope to resolve the status of the Lefebvrists. Their Bishop Fellay had hoped that Pope Benedict might make them a final gesture in their favour before the end of his pontificate. It is now clear he will not. Nor do they deserve one. As Fr Z suggests, it is they who need to be making some gestures, and quickly.

Assessments have been coming in from all quarters of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, and Fr Z collect a few together on 14 February, to wit:

• Garry Wills [ex-seminarian]: “What we really need are no priests.”
• James Carroll [ex-priest]: The pope “has seen only a solemn obligation to defend the church.”
• Richard Sipe [ex-priest]: “Certainly, he did a lot, but it was all reactionary.”
• Daniel Maguire [ex-priest]: The “scandal of the papacy [is] one of the last absolute monarchies in a democratizing world.”
• Ronald Lauder, president, World Jewish Congress: “The papacy of Benedict elevated Catholic-Jewish relations to an unprecedented level.”
• Abraham Foxman, national director, ADL: “He [the pope] was good for the Jews.”
• Rabbi Yona Metzger, Israel’s chief Ashkenazic rabbi: Benedict’s papacy exhibited “the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate.”
• Imam Hassan Qazwini, Islamic Center of America: “I have so much admiration for the pope, for being honest and humble.”
• Nihad Awad, national director, Council on American-Islamic Relations: “We offer the American Muslim community’s best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI.”
• Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general, World Evangelical Alliance: “I appreciate his [the pope’s] courage of ideas…and his boldness in warning us of the dangers of moral relativism….”
• Rev. R. Albert Mohler, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Pope Benedict has offered a brave and intelligent defense of truth against a relativist tide.”

The first four, disaffected Catholics of a sort, reveal their bias. Far more generous, and balanced, are assessments from the non-Catholics, those representing Judaism, Islam and Protestant Christianity. It just shows that the mainstream media can grossly misrepresent the true mood and opinion. Yesterday 138 Muslim scholars issued a similarly positive opinion of Pope Benedict. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel was equally positive about Pope Benedict and his legacy with regard to the Jewish people.

Pope Benedict in Brazil

What can we hope from Papa Ratzi in the future? It seems he will get an emeritus bishop’s pension of €2500 per month. He will of course be living at Mater Ecclesiae within the Vatican City State, with a small household, all of which will be maintained by the Vatican. It is generally assumed he will write more. After his speech last week to the clergy of Rome, more of which later, it can only be hoped, if it is not too late, that he might author a commentary on the documents of the Second Vatican Council. It would be a mammoth task for a tired octogenerian, but it might be hoped that he has copious notes already prepared, and last week’s speech on the “real Council” suggests there is still some fire in the belly of the pontiff. The expected encyclical on faith which was expected to be published in this Year of Faith, and so complete a trilogy that so far includes encyclicals on love and hope, is destined not to be, at least not as an encyclical of Pope Benedict. His successor might publish one, or Benedict might write one not as pontiff but as pontiff emeritus, and thus not as an encyclical.

After 28 February the already-significant interest in the impending conclave will heighten dramatically. It has been suggested that Pope Benedict might issue a decree allowing a conclave earlier than the current earliest date of 15 March. Today’s Vatican bulletin confirmed the possibility of an imminent motu proprio concerning the conclave, but did not seem to confirm that this would affect the date the conclave would begin. That is still a matter for the cardinals, not Pope Benedict.

It will not be of much use to speculate as to whom might be Benedict’s successor. Names being touted include Cardinal Scola of Milan, Cardinal Ouellet formerly of Montreal and now at the Vatican, Cardinal Ravasi of the Vatican and currently preaching the papal Lenten retreat. Cardinal Turkson, whom the media touted from the outset, seems to have blotted his copybook after apparently coming close to campaigning for the papacy. His recent remarks linking the abuse crisis with homosexuality will not have helped matters with the media, and the cardinals may shy away from a too controversial candidate, however right they think he might be on this score.

Of course, there is another candidate that the conclave can elect, or rather re-elect: Benedict XVI.