I know I’ve been giving you rather a lot of the Thoughts of Fr Hunwicke recently, but here’s another cracker. I found it a very great help when trying to make sense of the Synod—and indeed of the whole present pontificate.
Despite the rhetoric that some prelates employ in the rather trying euphoria which follows a Papal Conclave, we have no divine assurance whatsoever that any Pope since S Peter ever has been or is “God’s choice”. Even as a corporate collegium, the Cardinal electors are not protected in their prudential decisions. That would be an absurd dogma. I will not insult my readers by inserting here a history lesson about ‘bad popes’ (google ‘Marozia’ or ‘Pornocracy’) except to say that we can find more whole-hearted moral evil in quite a number of First Millennium popes than in the titillating iniquities of an occasional Renaissance libertine. Popes, needless to say, are protected from defining heretical propositions ex cathedra; but they are not vi ipsius muneris necessarily good or wise or nice men. (In 1559, Papa Caraffa was mad, bad, and nasty, had done a great deal to sabotage the Catholic cause in England, and Archbishop Hethe of York said more or less that in the House of Lords. But he and the other English diocesans, by God’s grace, refused, at great personal cost, the orders of Bloody Bess to break communion with Rome.) Moreover, vi ipsius muneris, popes are not even protected against being heretics or expressing heresy (google Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII); only against defining heresy ex cathedra. As Cardinal Pell made clear about a year ago, a small number of popes has been very, very good; a small number very, very bad; and the overwhelming majority somewhere or other in between.
Nor is a world-wide personality cult of the Roman Pontiff required by Catholic Dogma. Such a cult might, indeed, be a corruption of the Petrine Office, and indicate too much influence within the Church of the modern, Media-driven cult of the ‘celebrity’, so characteristic of our global village. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the first glimmerings we had of this cult were during the 1930s, the decade of the Nuremburg rallies, the decade also when Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII, but then Secretary of State) enjoyed displaying his charisma by going on foreign, even world-wide, tours and became known as il vice-Papa, il Cardinale volante. I wonder if these circuses have disadvantages as well as advantages. Papa Ratzinger obviously loathed doing them, but went through it all out of a sense of duty: I wonder how much the strain sapped his strength. Even Madonna seems to do them less.
It was, moreover, Papa Pacelli who appears to have started the silly game of having babies handed up to him while swaying along in his Gestatorial Chair (I would be interested if anybody could falsify this tentative suggestion by finding videoclips of popes earlier than him indulging in this insanitary game … so unhealthy, isn’t it? … you never know what diseases these poor children might pick up from a pope … after all, in the reception at the airport, the Sovereign Pontiff will quite possibly have shaken hands with some extremely unsavoury politicians … I wouldn’t have wanted some pope putting his hands anywhere near one of my children or grandchildren after he had been shaking hands with … er … um … )
We need to clear out of the way the fawning superstition that faithful, obedient Catholics, episcopal, clerical, or lay, are supposed to regard whoever happens currently to be the bishop of Rome as some sort of god-like superman who never makes mistakes and is above all criticism (until he dies or abdicates … when, of course, the vermin all emerge from the bilge of the Barque of S Peter and squeal like demented sirens). When a newly appointed bishop says that he will strive to be a “worthy representative of Pope Francis [or Pope Anybody]”, the sycophantic fool needs to be taught that bishops (according to the teaching of Leo XIII, not to mention Vatican II) are NOT Romani Pontificis vicarii, but Apostolorum successores. We need to do what we can to educate our obtuse Media to abandon their conviction that the Catholic Church is some sort of Stalinist dictatorship in which a throw-away, off-the-cuff remark made by one man in an airliner might constitute the discarding of the teachings of millennia. Indeed, I wish the last two pontiffs had not started these wretched airliner interviews.
If invited to drink a toast to our beloved Holy Father Pope Francis the Roman Pontiff and Vicar of S Peter, I will stand up and hold my head high and enthusiastically do exactly that.
But I will drink a toast to the Catholic Roman Church, and to Holy Tradition, first.