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Monday, February 11, 2013

Something Old, Something New

Benedict's resignation has set the Catholic (and non-Catholic world) a-twirl. Here, in no particular order are some thoughts to consider as Benedict's two-week notice runs its course.

1) Whether for good or ill, the two-week notice has given the cardinals a running start on electing a successor. This is certainly going to be at the top of a voting cardinal's conversation starters when he communicates with his confreres before they enter into the external silence of the conclave. Will this time period be useful in speeding the process along or will it create and harden voting blocs, making the process more difficult?
We haven't done this in 600 years, so anybody's guess is good on that subject.

2) Like anyone else, cardinals vote their issues. That is, they talk amongst themselves about the problems each one has, and each takes notice of how common any particular problem is amongst the others. Then they consider who among them is best equipped to handle whatever the most common problems are.

From where I'm sitting, the Church faces two pressing and inter-related problems: the demographic winter that most countries have now clearly entered and the problem of Islam. Since most Islamic countries have had decreasing fertility, but still show fertility rates in the 2.5-4.0 range, it is clear that world-wide Islamic populations will have a demographic momentum that most advanced countries no longer have. Meanwhile, most technologically advanced countries are slowly (or not so slowly) aging out.

Japan is actually losing population each year. It is living the future of the rest of the world. Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. 25% of the conclave cardinals are Italian.

Demography might not have been on the plate a decade ago, but it certainly is now. Similarly, Islam can no longer be dismissed as a passing fad. More and more cardinals will be remarking on these two issues to one another. That is going to affect the voting.

Within the last century, three Popes were clearly chosen in order to deal with specific geographic problems: Pope Pius XII vs. the Nazis, Pope John Paul II vs. Communism, Pope Benedict XVI and Europe. Will the new pope be a member of that group? Once he is elected, a study of his background will yield an answer to that question.

3) Vatican II continues to recede into the rearview mirror. Pope Benedict XVI was the last pope who had a personal stake in that particular council. The next pope, whoever he is, won't be personally or emotionally attached to it, at least not to the extent that a peritus like Benedict was. I've long argued that Vatican II is a rather unimportant council in the grand scheme of things, and that it is destined to be remembered as Fourth Constantinople or Fifth Lateran is - that is, in another century or so, it won't be remembered at all because its "reforms" turned out to be fairly useless. The next pope will put it quietly to bed.

That leaves a host of unresolved problems, of course. The SSPX, the Novus Ordo liturgy, the catechetics crash, the Anglican Ordinariate, these are all things that require greater consideration.

If you throw out the unusual interval between the Council of Trent and Vatican I, ecumenical councils are generally separated by a period of about 50 years. Technically we are overdue for another general council.  Are we likely to get one with the next pope? It seems unlikely, but then, Vatican II wasn't exactly on anyone's radar screen when John XXIII swept into office.

The Church seems to do best when there's a council once every couple of generations. It gives all the bishops a chance to sit down and really consider what's going on in their respective dioceses, get a little perspective on the world.

We haven't had a papal resignation in 600 years. In the entire history of the Church, there hasn't been more than a handful of such resignations. Is the resignation good or bad? That I can't say. All I can do is recall a verse:

"Look", says the Lord, "I am doing something new."

Yes, indeed.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Well, I agree with you that this is certainly something new. I guess I am not as shocked as I thought I would be. I have lived under six popes, from Pius XII to Benedict XVI. All I can say is that each one, in his own way, surprised me by their actions. So, whoever is elected, I have to believe the Holy Spirit is guiding the selection and He certainly knows what is best for our Church at this time in history. Don't know if I'll live to see another papal election. I hope they make this an exceptional one!