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by Tejji

miércoles, 11 de mayo de 2016

Ten recommendations to survive a calamitous Pope

By Francisco José Soler Gil
Taken from
Translated from the Spanish by Roberto Hope

Oh, but... can a Catholic think a Pope can be calamitous? Yes, of course. But should not a good Catholic believe that it is the Holy Spirit who acts behind a Pope's election? Evidently not. Maybe to that effect, it will suffice to remember the answer given to his questioner, professor August Everding, by then Cardinal Ratzinger in a famous interview granted in 1997. Professor Everding had asked the cardinal if he really believed that the Holy Spirit intervenes in the election of the Pope. Ratzinger's answer was simple and clarifying, as usual: «I would say no in the sense that the Holy Spirit should decide in each and every case since there are too many proofs against this contention; there are too many [Popes] regarding whom it is totally evident that the Holy Spirit could not have elected them. But that He, in the long run, does not let things get out of hand; that, to put it this way, He gives us a long rope, as a good educator, allows us plenty of freedom, but He does not let it rip entirely. To this, I would say yes. Hence we should understand this in a much wider sense, and not that He says: You have to vote for this candidate. But possibly allows only that which does not entirely destroy the whole thing».

Now although a Catholic takes for granted that no Pope can end up destroying the entire Church, history shows us that in the matter of pontiffs there have been of all kinds: good, regular, bad, solemnly bad and calamitous.

When can we say a Pope is calamitous? Of course for that, it is not enough that the Pope should hold false opinions on this or that topic. A Pope, as any other man, must necessarily be ignorant of many subjects and hold erroneous convictions on just as many topics. Hence, it may happen that a Pope bent on talking about stamp or coin collections, may hold crass errors on the value or dating of certain stamps or coins. Expressing opinions on matters other than his field of competence, a Pope is more likely than not to err. Just like you or I, dear reader. Hence, if a Pope should show a certain propensity to make public his opinions on the art of pigeon training, ecology, economy or astronomy, the Catholic specialist on such subject matters should do well to patiently endure the senseless occurrences of the Roman pontiff on subjects which evidently are foreign to his dignity. The specialist may, of course, lament the possible errors, and more generally, the lack of prudence which some declarations may manifest. But an imprudent or loquacious Pope is not for that matter a calamitous Pope.

It is or may be, on the contrary, the one who with words or deeds causes damage to the Church's legacy of faith, temporarily obscuring aspects of God's image or of man's image that the Church has the duty to guard, transmit and deepen.

¿But can such a case happen? Well, it has happened many times indeed in the history of the Church. When Pope Liberius (fourth century) ― the first Pope not to be canonized ― yielding to strong Arian pressures, accepted an ambiguous position with respect to this heresy, leaving the defenders of the Trinitarian dogma, such as Saint Athanasius, in the lurch; when Pope Anastasius II (fifth century) flirted with the holders of the Acacian schism; when Pope John XXII (fourteenth century) taught that the just's access to God does not occur until the Last Judgment; when the Popes of the period known as the «Great Western Schism» (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) used to excommunicate each other; when Pope Leo X (sixteenth century) not only did intend to finance his luxuries from the sale of indulgences but also to defend theoretically his power to do so, and so forth and so on, a part of the legacy of faith was obscured for a greater or lesser period of time for their deeds or omissions, generating in this manner moments of enormous internal tension in the Church. The Popes responsible for such situations can properly be called «calamitous».

The question is, then, what can be done in times of a calamitous Pope? What attitude is convenient to adopt in such times? Well, since publishing lists of tips to attain happiness, to control cholesterol, to become more positive, to stop smoking and to get slim are now in vogue, I will allow myself to propose my readers a series of tips to survive a calamitous Pope without ceasing to be Catholic. Needless to say, it is not an exhaustive list, but it may nevertheless turn out to be useful. Let us begin:

(1) Keep calm:

In moments of anxiety, hysteria is very human, but it does not help resolve anything. Composure, then, as only in tranquility can one make decisions that are convenient in each case, and avoid utterances and actions which one may have to regret afterward.

(2) Read good books on the history of the Church or the history of the papacy.

Accustomed to a series of great Popes, living during a calamitous Pope may become traumatic if one does not get to put it in context. To read good treatises on the history of the Church and the history of the papacy helps to better evaluate the present situation. Above all, because these books show us other cases ― numerous unfortunately for such is the way of human nature ― in which the waters of the Roman fountain came out murky. The Church suffers such infirmities but does not sink because of them. That is how it has happened in the past, and we expect to happen again in the present and in the future.

(3) Not let be carried out by apocalyptic discourse

Suffering the ravages of a calamitous pontificate, some people tend to take them as signs of the imminent end of times. This is an idea that emerges always in such circumstances: apocalyptic texts motivated by similar evils can be read in medieval authors. But that fact precisely should serve us as a warning. There in no great sense in interpreting each storm as though it were already the final tribulation. The end of times will come when it has to come and it is not for us to inquire neither the date nor the hour. Ours is to fight the battle of our time, but the global view belongs to Other.

(4) Not keep silent nor look the other way.

During a calamitous pontificate, the defect contrary to adopting the attitude of apocalyptic prophet consists of minimizing the events, keeping silent before the abuses and looking the other way. Some justify this attitude recalling the image of the good sons who covered Noah's nakedness. But what is certain is that there is no way of correcting the course of a ship if the stray is not decried. In addition, Scripture has for that situation an example which is more appropriate than Noah's: the strong but just reproaches of Apostle Paul to Pontiff Peter, when the latter let himself be carried by human respect. This scene from the Acts of the Apostles is there for us to learn to distinguish loyalty from the complicity of silence. The Church is not a party in which the president always has to receive unconditional applause. Nor is it a sect in which the leader must be acclaimed in all cases. The Pope is not the leader of a sect, but a servant of the Gospel and of the Church; a free and human servant, who, as such may on occasion adopt reprehensible attitudes or decisions. And reprehensible attitudes and decisions must be reprehended.

(5) Do not generalize

The bad example (of cowardice, of careerism, etc.) of some of the bishops or cardinals during a calamitous pontificate should not lead us to disqualify in general all bishops or cardinals, or clergy as a whole. Each one is responsible for his own words, acts, and omissions. But the hierarchical structure of the Church was instituted by her Founder, for which reason, in spite of all criticism, it should be respected. Nor should the protest against a calamitous Pope be extended to all of his utterances and actions. Only those in which he deviates from the millennial doctrine of the Church, or those in which he sets a course which may compromise aspects thereof. And the judgment on these questions should not be based on particular occurrences, opinions or tastes. The teaching of the Church is summarized in her Catechism. On that where a Pope deviates from the Catechism he should be reprehended, On the rest, not.

(6) Do not collaborate with initiatives that give greater glory to the calamitous pontiff.

If a calamitous Pope were to ask for help to carry out good works, he must be listened to. But other initiatives, such as multitudinous gatherings to make him appear as a popular pontiff should be ignored. In the case of a calamitous Pope, acclamation is uncalled for, since based on it, he could feel supported to deviate the barque of Peter still further. It is not valid to argue that the applause is not for the particular pontiff but for Peter, as the consequence of such applause will be taken advantage of not by Peter but by the calamitous pontiff for his own particular ends.

(7) Do not follow the Pope in what departs from the legacy of the Church.

Should a Pope teach doctrines or try to impose practices that do not correspond with the perennial teaching of the Church, synthesized in the Catechism, he should not be supported or obeyed in his attempt. This means, for instance, that priests and bishops have the obligation to insist on the traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of faith, even at the expense of exposing themselves to punishment. Likewise, lay people should insist on teaching the traditional doctrine and practices in their area of influence. In no case, whether on account of blind obedience or for fear of reprisal, would it be acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.

(8) Do not support collaborationist dioceses economically.

If a Pope were to teach doctrines or try to impose practices that do not correspond with the perennial teaching of the Church, synthesized in the Catechism, pastors of the dioceses should serve as retaining walls. But history shows that bishops do not always react with enough energy in the face of these threats. Even worse, they sometimes support, for whatever motives, the intentions of the calamitous pontiff. The lay Christian who resides in a diocese ruled by such a pastor should withdraw all economic support to his local church while the situation persists. Of course, this does not apply to assistance directed to works of charity, but it does to all other economic support. And this also applies to any other type of collaboration with the diocese, for instance, voluntary work or holding institutional office.

(9) Do not support any schism.

In the face of a calamitous Pope, the temptation for a radical rupture may arise. This temptation should be resisted. A Catholic has the duty to lessen the negative effects of a bad pontificate within the Church, but without tearing the Church apart or breaking away from the Church. This means, for instance, that if his resistance to adopt given theses or given practices should bring the penalty of excommunication on him, he should not for that reason advocate a new schism or support one of the existing ones. It is necessary to maintain oneself Catholic under all circumstances.

(10) Pray

The Church´s permanence and salvation does not ultimately depend on us, but on Him who wanted it and founded it for our benefit. At times of anxiety, it is necessary to pray, pray, pray, for the Master to wake up and calm the storm. This advice has been placed last on the list, not because it is the least, but because it is the most important of all. Since in the end everything reduces to our really believing that the Church is supported by a God who loves her and that will not let her be destroyed. Let us pray, then, for the conversion of nefarious pontiffs, and for any calamitous pontificate to be followed by others of restoration and peace. Many dry branches will have been torn away in the storm, but those which have remained bound to Christ will again flourish. May this last be also said of ourselves.

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