Saturday 23 February 2013

Of German theologians, a Scottish Cardinal and what the next Pope might do

The time of waiting before a Conclave, with an intrinsic uncertainty as to who the new Pope will be, creates a media opportunity for those who would like to promote an agenda of their own and have it seen as a real possibility for the future of the Church.  It represents what one might call a "media Conclave" as opposed to the "real Conclave" that will take place behind sealed doors with a smoke signal as the only communication to the outside.

German speaking theologians have already held their Conclave. Their letter, which in many respects appears very plausible, represents a nuanced undermining of Catholic life:
We turn to all those who have not yet given up hope for a new beginning in the Church and who work for this. We build upon the signals of departure and dialogue which some bishops have given in recent months in speeches, homilies, and interviews. .... The faithful stay away when they are not trusted to share responsibility and to participate in democratic structures in the leadership of their communities. Church office must serve the life of communities – not the other way around. The Church also needs married priests and women in church ministry. .... The Church’s esteem for marriage and unmarried forms of life goes without saying. But this does not require that we exclude people who responsibly live out love, faithfulness, and mutual care in same-sex partnerships or in a remarriage after divorce.
As an agenda for the future of the Church, the theologians letter should not be given credence. It does not discern clearly between what is of the essence of Catholic life and belief and what is open to prudential pastoral decision.

Cardinal O'Brien's interview for the BBC is rather better in that he does clearly distinguish between what is of permanence and therefore unchangeable and what is open to prudential pastoral decision,  the law of celibacy for priests being the example of the latter that has caught the attention of the media. I do think Cardinal O'Brien is quite right to point out that there are areas of the Roman Catholic Church where there are married priests. In England this is feature that has resulted from the permission of married former Anglican clergy to be ordained as Catholic priests. My own view of the situation, and I recognise that it is a situation that varies from Diocese to Diocese, is that we have de facto in England and Wales a situation of mixed practice, with both celibate and married clergy. One can have some sympathy for those men bound to the rule of celibacy who see the ready ordination of other men not so bound. But we should be precise here - it is the ordination of men who are already married, and not the marriage of men who are already ordained that is allowed (and the Cardinal does not seem to have been quite clear about this, if he is quoted correctly on the BBC website). I also wonder whether there is a certain amount of "the grass appearing greener in vocations other than one's own" for those priests who find fidelity to the promise of celibacy challenging. Fidelity to the vows of marriage also has challenges, and it might well prove for the priests involved to be a case of swapping challenges rather than doing away with them.

What does this mean for what a future Pope might do? Juridically, the Catholic Church upholds the law of celibacy for priests - cf Code of Canon Law c.1037 and 277 (though subject to dispensation by the Apostolic See c.1047, a dispensation which appears to be practiced in favour of married former Anglican clergy, but could be practiced in favour of others as well). Of particular interest in this regard are the provisions for Ordinariates for former Anglicans, which are also expected to uphold the law of celibacy for priests - cf Anglicanorum Coetibus VI.2:
§2. The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.
Though there might appear to be a demand for married priests - somewhat worryingly, a demand often associated with the quite different question of the ordination of women and therefore betraying a poor ecclesial sense - that might also need to be balanced against the not-so-visible valuing of the evangelical counsels among the new movements and communities, many of which recognise the fuller living of their charisms in community life lived under vows or promises of the counsels.

The present situation seems to enshrine one principle in law and then compromise it in a systemic way in practice. This seems to me unsustainable in the long run. It would be more coherent to have a common basis for dispensation from the law of celibacy that is applied to all men, and not just to convert Anglican clergy. But this is not quite the same as Cardinal O'Brien's suggestion that men should be able to consider whether or not they should or could get married and, at the same time, be priests.

Change? Unlikely, whoever the next Pope is. And I think it would be a mistake to see Cardinal O'Brien's remarks as having been made in any spirit of pressing for change. And, as for the German theologians .... the less said the better.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Pope Today

In 1971, Hans Urs von Balthasar published a collection of essays subsequently translated into English with the title Elucidations. One those essays had the title of this post and some of its themes were visited again in the concluding essay of the collection "Why do I still remain in the Church?"

The title - and the substance of the essay - refer at once to the office of the Successor of St Peter and to the individual who at that time filled that office, Pope Paul VI, though it leaves the latter un-named. Accordingly one can read the essay again today - that is, in the immediate "today" that are the final days of Pope Benedict's time as Successor of St Peter - and see its application anew to a different Pontiff.
It is astonishing to reflect that for a century [ie since the solemn definition of the First Vatican Council with regard to the Papal office] a man has been invested with such a power and has yet not broken under his burden. One is less astonished at the tempest which has finally been unleashed against him.
After describing Peter's humiliating threefold denial of Jesus and its subsequent denouement in the threefold profession of a love that is greater, von Balthasar writes in a characterstically forthright manner:
Peter is led where he does not wish to go ...., and even the Papacy today is led where it does not want to go. But it is precisely this way which completes the promise made to Peter. It not only gives him the final blessing, but it also makes clear what "authority" really means in such an office; it makes clear what position one must occupy if one is to exercise such authority properly. The lowest place which is where, by definition, the "servus servorum" must stand, the place of final contempt and insult, the rubbish-heap on which one is "a worm and no longer a man", this place which no man willingly occupies, is precisely the place where the office which he exercises may at last regain the greatest possible respect and credibility.
It is educative to reflect on one or two of those occasions when Pope Benedict has been subject to particular humiliation. There was the reaction to his address at Regensburg, which led to his apologising for the offense caused (the full text of the address is here). And yet the theme of the relation of reason to religious belief and its understanding of the nature of God, and the extent of a Catholic-Muslim dialogue that followed the address (see this report of the response of participants in that dialogue to the news of Pope Benedict's resignation), remain of permanent value. In January 2008, Pope Benedict - himself a former university professor - was prevented from visiting La Sapienza university in Rome following protests from some members of the university community to the effect that his presence was incompatible with the due freedom of scientific study, a view based on a mis-reading of a lecture pre-dating his time as Pope. Yet, again, if we look at the text of the address that was to have been delivered on that occasion, we find something of permanent value. It returns to the nature of reason, and the part that the Successor of Peter might have with regard to a university:
This brings me back to my starting-point. What should the Pope do or say at the university? Certainly, he must not seek to impose the faith upon others in an authoritarian manner – as faith can only be given in freedom. Over and above his ministry as Shepherd of the Church, and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of this pastoral ministry, it is the Pope’s task to safeguard sensibility to the truth; to invite reason to set out ever anew in search of what is true and good, in search of God; to urge reason, in the course of this search, to discern the illuminating lights that have emerged during the history of the Christian faith, and thus to recognize Jesus Christ as the Light that illumines history and helps us find the path towards the future.
There is a suggestion in an early part of this text that there is a kind of rationality based in what is received in the present times from previous generations and that, in recognition of this, the wisdom of the great religious traditions is to be valued as a heritage that cannot be cast aside with impunity. The relevance of such a consideration to the current debate on the nature of marriage in society is striking.
Is it not the case that, at least in these two instances, a moment of humiliation has also been a moment of quite effective exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter? The reflection upon them also perhaps suggests to us why Pope Benedict is so reluctant in public to react to applause - applause with a quite exceptional warmth and generosity towards his person - and instead directs his hearers immediately back to prayer (cf at the end of Mass on Ash Wednesday and at the Angelus on 17th February, which might almost have been any other Sunday Angelus even though some 50 000 people were present). These days at the end of his pontificate are characterised by this exceptional warmth, but also in other places by attack and reprobation. Perhaps we should expect that to be so, if the Successor of Peter is occupying the place that he should occupy? 
Should we not expect that the new Pope will also be one who will stand in the place of final contempt and insult?

And at the beginning of his essay on why we should still remain in the Church, von Balthasar observes:
Because, remarkable though it is, not even all that we idiots with all our measures can do has yet succeeded in destroying the Church. Indeed, almost the opposite seems true: the more one violates it, the more clearly appears its inviolable virginity. The more one humiliates it, the more clearly one can see that the Church is in its own, proper place. That is, of course, in the "last" place. 

Monday 18 February 2013

St Peter's Square 17th February 2013

Some 50 000 people are reported to have joined Pope Benedict XVI for the prayer of the Angelus at 12 noon on Sunday 17th February. The BBC report here cotains film that gives an idea of the size of the crowd. It is worth recognising that a more "normal" Angelus crowd in the middle of winter might barely fill the area of the Square between the obelisk and the Apostolic Palace.

The Via della Conciliazione had been closed to traffic, so it was possible to stroll up the centre of the street with the Vatican Basilica framed at the top. This photo was taken at about 11.15 am.

The next photo is to prove that I really was there. Taken about half an hour before noon. You can get some idea of the size of the crowd.

And I think if you enlarge the one below you should be able to see Pope Benedict at the window of the Apostolic Palace.

The BBC report I linked to above gives the same impression as the one that I gained on Sunday in St Peter's Square. Pope Benedict appears to be trying to live out the last days of his time as Successor of St Peter as if they were "normal working days", with only the most discrete acknowledgements that they are anything but normal. He has twice referred to being able to feel "almost physically" the closeness and the prayers of the faithful - at the General Audience (Italian here) on Ash Wednesday and speaking to the clergy of Rome diocese the next day. And the word "Grazie" - thank you - is his response to the warmth of applause that greeted him at Mass on Ash Wednesday and on Sunday in St Peter's Square. Pope Benedict is a man who uses words with great weight - so perhaps we should take that word "Thank you" very seriously.

My own text comment immediately after Sunday's Angelus:
I do love Bxvi ... but when I've gone to so much trouble, and he has many times his normal audience .... he just gives a catechesis and prays the Angelus like any other Sunday! No kidding! Why we love him - I don't think he could be any different. The Italians did manage to hold him up a bit, and he did thank them for turning out in such numbers. 
The full text of the Angelus catechesis and the greetings to pilgrims afterwards is here.
Un caloroso saluto infine ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Grazie a voi! Grazie di essere venuti così numerosi! Grazie! La vostra presenza è un segno dell’affetto e della vicinanza spirituale che mi state manifestando in questi giorni. Vi sono profondamente grato! Saluto in particolare l’Amministrazione di Roma Capitale, guidata dal Sindaco, e con lui saluto e ringrazio tutti gli abitanti di questa amata Città di Roma.
[A very warm greeting finally to Italian speaking pilgrims. (Applause at this point). Thank you! Thank you for having come in such numbers! Thank you! Your presence is a sign of the love and spiritual closeness that you are showing to me in these days. I am deeply grateful to you. I greet in particular the administration of the City of Rome, led by the Mayor, and with them I greet and thank all the inhabitants of this beloved City of Rome.]
It was, of course, totally worth the trip. The experience of being in the Square "live" was irreplaceable.

But I don't think I'll do it again! Twenty two hours "out and back" at my age has proven exhausting. It is something to do once, and to do when you are younger!

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

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Sunday 17th February at 12 noon: where I will be

In January 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI was unable to visit the La Sapienza university to deliver a lecture for the inauguration of the academic year, the diocese of Rome invited the faithful, and university students in particular, to attend the Sunday Angelus in numbers the next weekend as a gesture of solidarity with the Holy Father. A video of that occasion can be found here and Pope Benedict's text here.

I very nearly flew out to Rome for the day, just to be there. But, with the flights selected on the site of a well known low cost airline who conveniently do very early and very late flights between London Stansted and Rome Ciampino, I bottled it. Instead, I sent an e-mail to a priest friend who teaches in Rome asking him to represent me in the Square.

This morning I didn't bottle it. So I expect to be in St Peter's Square for the Angelus at noon on this coming Sunday. It won't quite be Pope Benedict's last Angelus - I think he will have one more to go - but it is the nearest I can get to it. I have just e-mailed the same priest friend with a slightly different message ...

Not everyone can get this kind of enthusiasm, particularly those who hold a Christian belief but are not Roman Catholics. This was the reaction of someone I met this morning (though he did suggest that I ask Benedict XVI to intercede on behalf of Brentford who are playing Chelsea on that day). So it is worth pointing out that a trip like this is not about any kind of adulation of the human individual, Joseph Ratzinger. It arises first out of a regard for the office that Joseph Ratzinger holds, the office of Successor of St Peter and Shepherd of the Universal Church; and it is a regard that is not an un-thinking subservience but a rational and considered regard which understands deeply the nature of that office. The element of the personal in this regard comes about because of the way in which Joseph Ratzinger has fulfilled the office. It is not necessary to believe that he has done this in a way that is perfect. However, Joseph Ratzinger has fulfilled his office in a way that demonstrates a high degree of consonance between the person and the mission to which he has been called, and it is this that prompts an enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI. This is fundamentally a question of theology and regard for the action of grace, and not one of personality cult.

Monday 11 February 2013

Cranmer on Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI has been the most searing intellect to occupy the Chair of St Peter for at least a couple of centuries, and the vacuum he leaves will be immense. It was an enormous blessing to the Church that his pontificate coincided with the archepiscopacy of Rowan Williams: together they were theological giants in a sea of prelate pygmies.

See Cranmer: Who will be the next Pope?

Pope John Paul II was a pretty searing intellect too, but a philosopher rather than a theologian. I do agree with Cranmer's observation about the coincidence of Pope Benedict's and Archbishop Williams' reigns. Seeing them together, I sensed a certain warmth that was in part informed by their both being "professional theologians" as well as holders of ecclesiastical office. The idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury being a keynote speaker at the recent Synod of (Roman Catholic) Bishops would in other circumstances have been inconceivable; and Archbishop Williams made a significant contribution at the Synod.

Friday 8 February 2013

In England and Wales: a day of prayer for the victims of human trafficking

The Bishops of England and Wales have asked Catholics in their territories to keep today, the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, as a day of prayer for the victims of human trafficking.

This page at the website of the Bishops Conference gives some background, including the Collect for St Josephine Batkhita and an outline biography of her.

At a time when the United Kingdom receives more migrants than might have been the case in the past from the less prosperous countries of eastern Europe, this day of prayer has a particular relevance. That migration creates opportunities for human trafficking that did not previously exist. Conflict in non-EU countries, which can increase the flow of refugees into nearby EU countries who, once within the EU have much easier freedom of movement to other member countries, is another factor that creates opportunities for human trafficking.

The sexual exploitation of young people, both internationally and within the UK, is another aspect of the phenomenon of human trafficking. Indeed, the on-line exploitation of children could be seen as a form of "cyber-trafficking". Any form of trafficking represents an exploitation of the often vulnerable person who is trafficked; when the intentions behind that trafficking are sexual exploitation, then the nature of the crime takes on a paticularly horrific character.

In the background to this issue sits the call towards hospitality towards the stranger who lives in our midst. The United Nations places obligations on its member countries with regard to granting asylum to refugees; and the Catholic Church recognises its mission to migrants in the work of, for example, of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery
to the dignity of being your daughter and a bride of Christ,
grant, we pray, that by her example
we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified,
remaining steadfast in charity
and prompt to show compassion.
Through Christ our Lord.

Taken from the Missal as the Collect for 8 February