Saturday, 16 February 2013

The "virtual Council" and the "virtual renunciation"

When he met with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome on Thursday, Pope Benedict offered a retrospective on the Second Vatican Council has he experienced it and now sees it (Italian text linked, other translations are appearing on the Vatican website; there is a form of English translation at the Vatican Information Service website.). Towards the end of his address  Pope Benedict XVI discussed the role of the media in relation to the coverage of the Second Vatican Council - he speaks of a "virtual Council" according to the media that had little connection to the "true Council" of the participating Bishops:
It seems to me, 50 years after the Council, that we are seeing how this virtual Council is breaking down, is being lost, and the true Council is appearing with all its spiritual force.
A classic of this "virtual Council" was the Tablet lecture by Robert Blair Kaiser in October 2012. It's opening two paragraphs indicate exactly the politicised approach and the mis-appropriation of the notion of the "People of God" referred to by Pope Benedict in his address:
These days, both wings in the Church are saying the Council was a failure. The left wing is saying the Council didn't go far enough. The right wing is saying it went too far.

I do not believe the Council was a failure. It has already changed the way we live - and think - as Catholics. I believe the charter that was written at Vatican II is the only thing that will save the Church, the people-of-God Church, not the hierarchical Church.
What struck me about that lecture, and the questions and answers afterwards, was not only that it was not recognisably Catholic. I could not recognise in it anything that I knew of the Council from reading its documents and from reading two different histories of the Council. For me, it really did feel as if I was in a different world.

One would be forgiven for thinking that there is also "virtual renunciation" and a "real renunciation" with regard to Pope Benedict's decision to step down from the Papacy. On Monday 11th February 2013, the story of Pope Benedict's decision existed in his own words as follows, and now published as a Declaration on the Vatican website:
... in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter...
There does not appear to have been an embargoed press release 24 hours earlier, or the adoption of a "slow news" day to present the news. With hindsight, this gave Pope Benedict some 24 hours with his own account of his decision being the only one in circulation. It has taken until Saturday 16th February for the Times, repeating reporting in a weekly Italian news magazine Panorama, to head up a full page of coverage with the headline:
The feuding cardinals, power struggles and scandals that drove out the Pope
And, in a sub-headline towards the bottom of the page over a few column inches by a Valentine Low describing some of the more juicy stories of miscreant Popes:
....but at least there were no orgies

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