There are stories around about disquieting events, possible death threats, invisible mafias, and disposable Popes. They are, if you look at the hard evidence, based on nothing. I mean, not even hot air. Hot air is, at least, something.
The theory (whispered and implied, but not stated; because no one can even say that he has reliable sources telling him so) is that Benedict was put in front of the choice: either you resign, or you die. Then the good Benedict would have decided that it is better to resign than to die, because if he resigns instead of dying it is somewhat better for the Church, and there will be less strife. The Church doesn’t really like poisoned Popes, you see. She prefers them alive.
This is so outlandish I cannot understand how serious journalists may even entertain the thought. Unless it be because they are, well, journalists.
Let us state the obvious for the benefit of the highly impressionable, and say why it does not work.
1. The Pope is a powerful chap.
We are not talking of a jail inmate in some Hollywood movie here. If the Pope had any inkling of threat, he would remove anyone suspected of being even remotely involved to the furthest part of Botswana, and to the most inaccessible monastery near the Tierra del Fuego. He would be able to trial and condemn anyone involved, or suspected of being involved, with appeal only possible to… him. He would be able to remake the entire papal household overnight, get a food taster, provide for abundant personal protection, and live more protected than Saddam Hussein before Dubya came on the scene. Would Benedict be too weak for that? Reflect on this: he had his butler arrested and kept locked for months for a mere matter of leaks to the press: so no, he wouldn’t be.
2. Benedict isn’t a coward.
I am utterly incensed at the insult made to Benedict by those who even think that he could yield to this kind of pressure. To think that a Pope – and a Pope of 84 to that – would be afraid to die is plain senseless. Particularly so in the case of a man like Benedict, about whose moral integrity I truly hope none of my readers has any doubt. Benedict has never been John Wayne in his role as a Pope, and I do not think anyone ever expected him to become one; but to think that he would yield to pressure in order to save his life is outright offensive.
3. Resignation would foster strife instead of quenching it
Now: let us imagine, with a huge effort, that Benedict is neither powerless nor coward. He would, the conspiracy dreamers say, still have to resign if he thinks there will be less strife within the Church than if he were to be killed. Heavens, what do people smoke in the morning?
Firstly, no man of any integrity at all, and much less a Pope, would ever weigh the pros and cons of yielding to blackmail. A Pope, of all people, would know that in a case like that no double effect is conceivable, and no “lesser evil” is allowed.
You simply don’t yield to blackmail. Non possumus. Period.
Secondly, how does a Pope forced to resign by a supposed gang of criminals help the Church in any way? Such an event would open the door for the next threat, the next resignation, the next invalid conclave. It would, in fact, not only call into the question the legitimacy of any future Pope, but even of many past ones! The tales about Pope X or Y being elected in Conclave and then forced to immediately renounce by a bunch of Yakuza-Cardinals are around already. There would be no end to tales. It would be a mess with no end. Speaking of her as if she were alive: not even Amy Winehouse at her drunkest would have considered this a sensible option.
4. The Pope is threatened and obedient, but rather capricious.
So the Pope can be forced to resign, but he can’t be forced to say he is not Pope anymore. He therefore stubbornly decides to take the title “Pontiff Emeritus”, and those who can easily poison him each and every day do and say nothing. They just allow him to send a very subtle message to the world that says: “look, world! I am a prisoner! I am Pope Rapunzel! Someone get me out of here!”.
If Benedict had been – absurdly – forced to resign, he would have – logically in this absurd scenario – been ordered not only to resign, but to prevent any doubt about the legitimacy of his successor. He would have become a retired bishop, with no diocese like any retired bishop, and would have been known simply as such. If you want to depose the King, you take care he is not seen as King anymore afterwards.
5. The Conjurors keep Benedict alive.
Come on: in this absurd scenario, the best thing to do would be to dispose of Ratzinger post-haste, a couple of months after his resignation took effect. Old and frail, and all that. The decision to resign was very wise. He saw the end coming, and wanted the Church to have a strong Pope. A “Sicilian Coffee” * and the problem is out of the way. To say it with Schopenhauer: Obit Anus, Abit Onus...
But no. Benedict not only lives, but thrives. He is in better health than ever. He answer to journalists, and debates with atheist journalists/philosophers. He makes clear there’s nothing wrong with his resignation.That everything is normal. That it was his decision.
Now, let’s look at reality. Hard facts. Things we know. Things Benedict has, actually, said. Things that make sense.
Benedict has lived from very near the pitiful spectacle of the last years of JP II; an impotent Papacy in the hands of those most able to get into the half-gaga graces of, so to speak, Pope Theoden before Gandalf arrives. This, he rightly thinks, is poison for the Church. If he were to become Pope, something like that would not happen under his watch. When he sees his forces vanish, he would prefer to resign rather than go on to the bitter end, and follow the strange idea of JP II’s according to which the entire Church should be left without a guide so that one man can show the world how brave he is. Which always sounded strange to me also because had he resigned, his cross would not have become lighter in the least.
You may disagree or not with this thinking, but Benedict has never made of mystery of it, and made statements to such effect as soon as 2005.
There’s nothing strange in his resignation. It made, and it makes, perfect sense. If he only had chosen better Cardinals we would not be having have this conversation, at all.
Why has he, then, chosen to remain “Pontiff emeritus”? Well, he has said that, too! Because he did not want to smell of Celestine! He says: “I am not in the condition to continue anymore, but I am not discarding the papacy like an old sweater. I am the Pope Emeritus like a Professor is emeritus; not the owner of the office anymore, but one who once had it and does not discount his past role, does not wash his hands of it”.
Again, you may disagree with this or not, but it makes sense. Benedict is a cerebral guy. He thinks about things. He thought and decided that one cannot “un-Pope himself”. That’s all there is to it.
This is not strange at all. It is part of common thinking. In Italy every former PM and every former President of the Republic are both called “Presidente” for the rest of their lives! No one ever thought that there was a multiplicity of Prime Minister and Presidents in place! It is a tribute to the high office, not a statement of multiplicity of offices!
So. This bubble is burst.
Back to business, and to sanity.
Only sane comments will be published.
* you don’t know what a “Sicilian Coffee” is?
Ask Michele Sindona…
The Pontiff Emeritus has officially reacted to Andrea Tornielli's recent questions about the supposed background of his resignation, and has invited to stop absurd speculations.
If you ask me, he was very right in saying a word or three, because such speculations damage the institutions of the Papacy, and we should not damage the Papacy merely because we have an atrocious Pope.
It goes without saying that the conspiracy ultras will not be satisfied with this. If one thinks the Pope was horribly blackmailed into resigning, he will believe his latest statements have the same cause as the resignation. This is the beauty, so to speak, of all conspiracy theories, whose followers are by definition able to persuade themselves of absolutely everything they wish without reality having to provide any concrete evidence of what they believe. It's all secret, you know.
Still, I rather hope reasonable and sensible people will now definitely stop every conjecture on the matter. Not to do so means to insult Benedict to the point of considering him not only cowardly enough to give in to blackmail, but outright servile in that he keeps marching towards his grave with such a weight on his conscience.
The Church does not believe in lesser evils. If a Pope is threatened with a huge scandal unless he resigns, he has the duty not to resign whatever evil may come out of the scandal. This, assuming that the unearthing of a scandal is the evil, rather than the scandalous facts themselves. A Pope can simply not accept to be strong-armed into resigning his office. Popes haven't resigned faced with Napoleon and the possible devastation of Catholicism all over Napoleonic Europe. Just imagine if a Pope should resign to avoid some sex or abuse or financial scandal.
Please let us stop this, and let us be real.
Benedict freely decided to resign. Whether we like it or not.
A certain view of Pope Benedict’s resignation goes along the lines of the Pontiff Emeritus having resigned as a consequence of “pressures”, or even having been “forced” to resign. In this second case, his successor would not be the legitimate… bishop of Rome.
I do not think these theories have any solid fundament in reality. Allow me to explain why.
A Pope, like every powerful man, is under pressure all the time. Unavoidably, he – and they – will be surrounded by people having different ideas about the course he should take on this or that matter; some of them will be in good faith, and other won’t. It’s all par for the course.
What is not par for the course is a Pope that suddenly begins to do stupid things just because he is put under “pressure” to do so. Pope Ratzinger had a decade-long experience of positions of power; nothing, absolutely nothing of the office life of a powerful man could have been unknown to him. Powerful people know how it works. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be powerful.
The idea of a Ratzinger just deciding that the time has arrived to think with other people’s head, and do what he thinks wrong because others say so, is just untenable and, I add, disrespectful of the former Pontiff, seen as a Romulus Augustulus rather than a true Prince of the Church.
Be it as it may, it might in all cases never be denied that a man who chooses to bend to exterior pressure is himself responsible for his behaviour. Ubi honor, Ibi onus. There is no way Pope Ratzinger might have taken such a decision without bearing all its responsibility. So we are at square one.
Even more absurd is the second hypothesis: that the Pope was “forced”. How do you “force” a Pope to do something he does not want to do? Is our esteem for Benedict so low that we consider him able to bend to, say, the threat of physical violence, or blackmail? What fear of death may a man of 83 have, a Pope to boot? And who on earth would be in a position to threaten or blackmail him without being immediately arrested? Again, this theory is, when reflected upon, even more offensive for the Pontiff Emeritus, who is then seen as having fears for his life, open to blackmail, and outright cowardly. It makes the same sense as to imagine that extraterrestrials would have visited the Pope and said to him either he resigns or they will invade and destroy the Earth in order to devote it to the cultivation of their favourite mushrooms.
No, it doesn’t make sense. What also does not make sense are these equilibrist’s exercises by which every time the Pontiff does something we do not approve of, the reason for it must be looked elsewhere: typically, the culprits are chosen among the “wolves”, as if a Pope could not send all of them to Uganda at three hours’ notice, and as if there were only one of them who is allowed to exert influence on him for even thirty second without his consent.
In addition, this second theory hides a terrible menace to Catholicism: ad libitum Sedevacantism.
If every time we have a bad Pope we start to theorise that the former Pope might have been “forced” to resign (or have been poisoned, or the like) and therefore the current Pope not validly elected, or the result of murderous scheming, we will create an army of Sunday Sedevacantists who think they can decide, by every Pontificate, whether it is a legitimate one or the Sea is vacant. This in itself is a worse danger than every Papal resignation, and can cause immense damage by weakening the dignity and authority of the Papacy.
If I think that I can freely decide whether the Pope is Pope (say, because I have become persuaded the last Pope was illicitly disposed of), it is fair to say I am the last one who can call himself Catholic.
My suggestion is that we leave the conspiracy fantasies where they belong: to the old cranks, the Sunday Novelists and the Vodka Vaticanists – of whom there will never be any scarcity – and start to respect the Papacy, the Popes and common sense.
Benedict “forced” to resign? Seriously, the “extraterrestrial” theory makes more sense.
We live in terrible times for a Catholic; a time in which not only the… Bishop of Rome is very bad (this has often happened in the past, as I will never tire to point out), but the news of how bad he is goes around the world in minutes. We are, therefore, subject to challenges our ancestors did not have. One of the results of this disgraceful Papacy will be to undermine the prestige of the office, and the devil will try to use this to persuade the faithful that the Church is not the Church, or the Pope is not the Pope, or both.
We, who are good and well instructed Caholics, react to such a temptation. We stay faithful to the Only Church as we bemoan Her miserable state, and we stay faithful to the… Bishop of Rome and to the Papacy he does not even want to mention, because as good Catholics we side with the Papacy even when the Pope is an utter disgrace.
Beware the temptation of escaping the drama that is unfolding under our eyes by fleeing to a fantasy world made of non-popes, of “poping wolves”, or of outlandish theories of Vatican Fiction. The reality is bad enough. It is a Cross we are called to carry. Let’s carry it denouncing every falsehood and scandal, but staying faithful to the institutions of the Church and the Papacy.