For Benedict resignation is a great come down from on High, not catastrophic. It shoots him to the skies to become a guiding star not tainted by worldly titles like His Holiness, to imitate self-emptying of Jesus. Is everyone listening to take a cue from him?
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to become his former ordinary self Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger with no claim to be addressed as: His Holiness, from Feb.28/13 onwards. It came as shock only to those who do not know Papal history. But it is an uncomfortable warning to many in the Episcopate that they too have to follow his lead and step down if they can’t do justice to the office they hold, instead of clinging to perks of power for personal gain, not for service. That there is no better way to become credible in this 21st century is the message Benedict sends out to the whole world.
The present Pope has acted in the true spirit of Lent and Ash Wednesday telling faithful: Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return, in the grave yard which is the greatest leveller of all manmade inequalities. In renouncing all power, pomp and glory associated with his eight year old Papacy he was doing nothing stupendous but literally following his master Jesus who emptied himself of his heavenly glory to become the Son of Man, just a humane human, a brother and friend (You are my friends) to all of us, nothing more, nothing less.
According to reports Celestine V, a saintly hermit had been the last Pope to resign voluntarily in 1294 after reigning for five months only and Gregory XII reluctantly in 1415 to end a dispute on rival claims to papacy.
In fact Benedict is reported to have paid a visit to Celestine’s tomb on April 28/2009 and left there his own pallium – a liturgical vest he had received when he started his eight-year pontificate. Besides in an interview he gave to German journalist Peter Seewald in 2010 he had said:“If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.” That means he was thinking of it for long.
It is true in the last 600 years no Pope had offered himself to resign for any reason whatsoever thus enforcing the belief: “Once a Pope, always a Pope.” For those less informed about history it must be said that Pope Benedict is the 10th pope to resign starting with Pontian (230-35) and two other Benedict(s) V(964) and IX(1032-35) before him.(For details see Hindu12/2/13).
Next Pope, Who?
That is why as soon as the news broke people all over started speculating who could be the next Pope to bring about change for the better, change at a faster pace, since change alone is the unchanging law of nature. “It may be different in a higher world, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed more often”(Newman).
In a globalised democratic world top leadership in civil society or church cannot be and should not be the monopoly of one family, one class, one country or one continent. No use saying, Church is not a democracy. What is the meaning of the saying (Vox Populi Vox Dei) Voice of people, voice of God? What did the first Christian community do? They were asked to select seven men full of the Holy Spirit to take care of the human needs of the people of God. If they did not call it democracy, it was because that word was not in vogue then. What does closed door papal election through secret ballot tell us? How is it different from any well organized political elections? If the topmost office in the Catholic Church is filled by secret democratic ballot by a college of cardinals, why can’t other top heads of the church in various countries and dioceses in each country be done in similar fashion?
Whether one likes it or not, the Catholic Church in India is just a carbon copy of the malfunctioning political democratic system here. I have tried to point it out in my last article: “Silent Church as good as Dead” in which a verbatim comparison is made to Rahul Gandhi’s speech at Jaipur. What is important is that the Church humbly and prayerfully holds fast to right principles of democracy to discover the Voice of God through an intuitive prayerful study of the Voice of the people. This is what often happens in the election of a Pope by a college of cardinals. In this Papal election is not a blind imitation of flawed democracies in India or else where. Of course whether the Pope should be elected only by cardinals appointed by the Pope or by bishops of the whole world is a moot question hotly debated in the Church. It can’t be gone into here.
Example Par excellence
The fact is for the last 600 years Popes have been elected for life and none of them ever felt unable, "physically, psychologically and spiritually" to run the Catholic Church. In the case of Pope John Paul II, some say he too must have felt his inability but didn’t have the courage of conviction to express it, admit it to himself and quit quite unlike Benedict XVI. This is what makes the present Pope stand apart as a stalwart, a towering figure and a trail blazer among Popes to be admired, esteemed and imitated by future generations of Popes and top office bearers in the Church’s hierarchical ladder. As for their age to hold office, the Chinese practice of baring those above 68 to hold top political posts, is something churchmen should think of to make themselves and the Church relevant to the youth of the world.
By coming down from his high throne (Cathedra) to become a commoner Benedict was simply shooting himself up like a blazing rocket to the high skies. There was only one other such instance in history before him. It was that of his first predecessor Peter called Rock who chose to get himself crucified with head down to declare unequivocally his unworthiness to equate himself with his master. Of course he was not called His Holiness either, even though he was appointed leader by the all holy person like Jesus who never presented himself as His Holiness either. How much more outlandish it is in our own day and age?
Latin American or African Pope?
Till John Paul II, most popes were Italians for the simple reason the vast majority of Cardinals which made up the Electoral College were from Italy. What happens in our own political democracy? Those who get elected as PM or CMs are from Dynastic groups, since dynastic MPs and MLAs make up the vast majority due to nepotism. A change in this system started happening with the election of last two Popes, one Polish and other German, each contributing what his country’s heritage had to offer to the universal church. John Paul with his political streak brought down the Berlin wall and intellectual Benedict introduced Papacy to internet, started an account in his own name in Twitter last December 12 and brought over 15 lakh followers though he made only 36 postings.
As a result of this global reach we see this new trend demanding inter-continental representation strengthened. Now it is making its voice heard as soon as the Pope offered to resign. The first Papal claimants have come from Latin America and Africa though their chances may be dim. Latin America represents 42 percent of the world's 1.3 billion-strong Catholic population, the largest single block in the Church, compared to 25 percent in its European heartland, according to reports. Hence Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said: “Bishops and cardinals from Latin America could take responsibility for the universal Church," since Church’s future is not in Europe.
Similarly Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch of Christian Unity said: "It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave," and named, Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the vast diocese of Sao Paolo, Brazil, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading Vatican department for Eastern Churches, or Peter Turkson from Ghana, known as Church's social conscience and promoter of world financial reform, as Papabili (potential Popes).
"It could be time for a black pope, or a yellow one, or a red one, or a Latin American," said Guatemala's Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales. When Marc Ouellet 68, native of Quebec, Canada was cited he said becoming pope "would be a nightmare." Though India has seven cardinals, none was heard proposing any from them.
Papal Resignations Common Talk
In a lighter vein it may be said, there is nothing new or shocking about discussing pros and cons of Papal resignations. When Pope Paul the VI of Humanae Vitae (on Contraception) fame, reached the age set for resignation for bishops there was wide spread subdued discussion about his possible resignation. This scribe was then editor and publisher of New Leader from Madras and so I raised the question in the weekly: Should the Pope Resign and invited readers’ views. In an editorial I argued that Pope, as the lawgiver cannot and should not place himself above the law. Besides being Bishop of Rome himself, he should apply the law first to himself etc which raised a lot of uproar in conservative circles then.
On the day Paul VI was expected to resign a Triumvir -- myself, assistant editor Fr.Tony Devota (now bishop of Trichy) and a young priest John Peter of the Cathedral -- manufactured an audio cassette announcing the resignation of Pope Paul VI in Italian and English and inserted in a radio. During supper at the Presbytery the radio was put on and there came out the announcement: “Ici radio Vatican... Pope Paul VI has tendered his resignation...... World leaders have expressed shock and admiration.... etc” just to confound a bunch of conservative group of elderly Italian and Indian priests who argued the Pope cannot, should not and therefore would not resign. Present for supper were also some guests from Bangalore. All thought it was a true radio announcement and believed. Some went to their rooms and started fiddling with their radios all night to get more news but to no avail.
Tricks to Torpedo outdated Ideas
I myself took the elderly Parish Priest Fr. Raju for a stroll to comfort and convince him that the heavens would not fall even if the Pope were to resign because Jesus was actually supporting the Church. The guest priests left early morning for Bangalore and spread the news that Pope resigned. The elderly Cicilian priest and chaplain of General hospital went out early morning to collect papers to read the news and preach to the nurses. And all of us had a loud laugh when we got together later in the day for the nasty trick we played on the unsuspecting elders.
But the biggest joke dawned only after a month when I got a letter from the Vatican thanking the weekly for the poll conducted and sending the views of readers to Rome. That left me wondering because I had sent nothing to Rome. Only later I realised, that one of the readers of New Leader had collected all the letters from readers and sent them to Rome for information and the Letter from Vatican was a very polite diplomatic answer of thanks for the information. In my turn I published that letter as well. The final out come was I got a request from a French paper asking for details of my survey on Papal Resignation and slapped on me the cute title: “Terrible Child of India” when I explained to the paper the whole story. I was in my 40s then not nearing 80 as now. Everything was done to provoke critical thinking through harmless humour with ill will to none. This is just to say that Papal resignation has always been a live topic of serious, frivolous or humorous discussion in the Church at all levels.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,