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.
There are concerns around the internet that wealthy people would try to influence the Pope concerning the episcopal appointments, and more in general. Letters are written and are, through apposite channels – like other influential, but progressive churchmen – put to the personal attention of the Pope.
I am not surprised, but cannot share the dismay.
If wealthy traditionalist Catholics would try to inform the Pope of their concerns in the appointment of bishops, I am sure none of us would have anything to say against it. I am, in fact, rather sure wealthy traditionalist Catholics do it already, nor do I think this attempt to influence the Pope can be seen as anything else than a good deed, if made in good faith.
In addition, it is often said – particularly around the blogosphere – that the Pope is “isolated” and at the mercy of the elusive “wolves” apparently circling around him. It is, therefore, surprising how the attempt to jump the “wolves” and communicate directly with the Holy Father – be it made from traditionalists or “progressive” Catholics – should be seen in a negative light.
As we have all too clearly seen in the last weeks, the Pope does not live in a bubble and there would be much to be afraid of if he did. He will be unavoidably – and rightfully – exposed to a continuous stream of information coming from people who want to influence him for the most various – some commendable, some less so – reasons. The question is in my eyes not whether the Pope is exposed to such an influence – which he is – but whether he will pursue a line of coherent and logical conduct according to the tone he has decided he will give to his Papacy, or will be led to make one concession here and another there to try to make everyone happy and avoid controversy; with the usual result that he will make no one happy, and will foster controversy.
What in my eyes remains the most tragic example of this certainly wavering pontificate – a pontificate with two faces to such an extent, that “wolves” must be invented to justify the activity of the “progressive” Pope, whilst the “conservative” actions are seen as coming from the “authentic” Pope – is the episode of Gerhard Maria Wagner, the appointed auxiliary bishop of Linz, an appointment to which the Pope renounced after the reaction of the Church hierarchy in Austria and the predictable media uproar. The signal was here sent in the most evident of manners, that the Pope was clearly willing to be influenced and ready to change his mind whenever the price of keeping it would be a prolonged controversy.
The problem is not in those who write letters. The problem is, in case, in those who receive them.