Thursday, May 25, 2017

Betting on Dead Papal Politics

Which pope’s agenda will win? 
One of the things about having to maintain an “unbroken succession” of popes is that you know that there is always going to be a “next guy” to come around. And you can entertain the hope that the “next guy” won’t be as bad as “this guy” has been. (I’m recalling an early “Pope Francis”-era interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan talking about “this guy” – the new “Pope Francis”).

In his article “Burying Benedict”, First Things “Literary Editor” Matthew Schmitz seems to have that very hope – that the “next guy” or some subsequent “guy” will be a better pope than “Pope Francis”. A “guy” with a better “interpretation”. He makes the bold claim that indeed, it won’t be the “Francis” agenda “Burying Benedict”, but “Benedict” will in effect be “burying the Francis agenda”.

Which will ultimately survive?

And so the two popes, active [“Pope Francis”] and emeritus [“Pope Benedict”], speaking and silent, remain at odds. In the end, it does not matter who comes last or speaks most; what matters is who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go. When Benedict’s enraptured words are compared to the platitudes of his successor, it is hard not to notice a difference: One pope echoes the apostles, and the other parrots Walter Kasper. Because this difference in speech reflects a difference in belief, a prediction can be made. Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis.

I don’t doubt that this sentiment is one reason why Bergoglio decided to live off-site in the crew quarters.

Actually, the question of who is going to win this one is still up in the air.

Biting Their Fingernails

Yes, I was right about the “Opposing Ratzinger” thing. I knew that Bergoglio was going to challenge some Ratzinger views from the start. But I’m also man enough to admit my failed predictions. You see, I made another prediction – that “the Church” was merely “Killing Time with Good Pope Francis”. I had also predicted that “Pope Francis” would be a “caretaker pope” – “a warm, fuzzy ‘caretaker pope’ who won’t do much, and who can serve to be manipulated”. Boy was I wrong about that one!

Apparently the Cardinals really hadn’t done their homework on him as well. They saw an old guy with a smiling face, and they compared him with “Good Pope John” (whom they thought would be a “caretaker pope” as well – too old to really do anything). And those who thought that “Good Pope Francis” might have been another “caretaker pope” are, like Schmitz, probably biting their fingernails right now.

Schmitz, in invoking “the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go” is relying on a misinterpretation (Rome’s misinterpretation) that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Never mind that Rome has adopted more heresies into its official canon than virtually every other organization that calls itself Christian combined.

Schmitz makes the always-fatal Roman assumption that a promise that Jesus made to the Apostles in person was somehow made to Rome’s “succession until the end of time”. (Yes, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, following the Vatican II document “Dei Verbum”, actually makes that statement).

He can be forgiven. He did, after all, remind the world again of the practice of popes killing popes. Everyone needs to understand was standard operating procedure for how popes functioned for many hundreds of years.

But in fact, “Pope Francis” is living longer, and creating far more havoc, than even “Good Pope John” ever did. Vatican II kinda-sorta had a face-saving way out for the conservatives. (Yes, it was the fact that Rome used words in multiple ways so that multiple interpretations could be taken away by both sides of any disagreement).

But “Pope Francis” has left no “out” like that for the conservatives. The Vatican II conservatives could come out of that event crowing, saying that “nothing has changed” (even though the progressives could walk away saying the same thing).

It’s not working the same way with “Pope Francis” and his document “Amoris Laetitia”. At some level, even for Roman Catholics, the words that get written down actually matter more than “the interpretation”. There is no way to escape “the interpretation” that this document enables “communion for those who are divorced and remarried without benefit of annulment” – a thing that Rome had never permitted up to this point. Sure, he’s willing to allow for conservative dioceses to prevent this. But he’s also made getting annulments a quick and easy thing. So that’s not really even a concession. In any event, the barn door has been left open, and the horses are escaping.

Handicapping the Papal Horse Race

The Number of Voting Cardinals
Source: Wikipedia. To date, Ratzinger/Wojtyla-appointed Cardinals outnumber
Bergoglio appointees 72-44. But that number can change quickly in coming years. 
Speaking of horses – back to the papal horse race. Who’s “interpretation” is going to win? In challenging Schmitz’s prediction, and in the spirit of my previous article, “Killing Pope Francis”, I thought it would be fun to check the horse race: who’s really going to win? “Francis”? Or “Benedict”? (Bergoglio/Kasper/Küng or Ratzinger/Wojtyla)?

At the present time (see the chart nearby), the number of voting totals in the Ratzinger/Wojtyla block is 72 – there is no guarantee that all 72 of those would “vote conservative” in any event (many of them likely voted for Bergoglio in the first place – that’s how he won). On the other hand, the Bergoglio total is 44 now, going up to 49 by June 28. That’s a difference of only 23 in favor of the Ratzinger/Wojtyla side. Fully 30 of the voting-age Cardinals are 75 or older, which means that over the next five years, almost half of the Ratzinger/Wojtyla Cardinals will become ineligible to vote (at age 80). Assuming that “Pope Francis” names 10 Cardinals per year, the voting odds could completely flip within the next 5 years.

So what happens if Schmitz is wrong, and the next pope is a young Bergoglio appointee? “Pope John Paul” was elected at age 58 and lived another 27 years as pope. He was a popular pope who contributed a lot of fuel to the “Catholic Convert” movement. (And I have to admit, I was even moved to “return home” for some years in large part because of the dynamic nature of his papacy.)

A Bergoglio-style pope could have the opposite effect. A man who lives to be age 80 (as Bergoglio has done) can have a life expectancy of at least another 6-8 years. A vigorous man like Bergoglio who travels and carries his own suitcases can potentially live longer than that. What if he’s naming Cardinals all those years?

Remember, “Papal Infallibility” was first conceived as a way of preventing one pope from undoing what another pope did. Maybe Bergoglio has found another way!

Which papal agenda will be the one to survive? Bergoglio is hoping to outlive them and put enough Cardinals in place to keep his progressive agenda moving forward. In which case the conservatives, many of whom are considering “the Benedict Option”, may be considering a new—and yet old—twist for that phrase.

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