Pope Benedict leaves




First reactions to the pope resigning.

Take him at his word.The job is huge. He is old. He is not up to it anymore.Vatileaks has bruised him badly. Prelates lining up their ducks for the next pontificate was maybe too much too bear.

The irony in this case  is that  here’s a man who showed up at the JP ll funeral with his physician’s bona fides of good health. He wanted the job, as he was already attached to John Paul ll at the hip while  they made war on over 100 theologians who were begging them to heed “the signs of the times.” He was the bad cop for the Polish pope, all the while smiling as he dispatched so many good men from teaching positions. He also made sure that reliable Yes men were placed in major dioceses

Now he’s exhausted. Fair enough.The butler’s  Vatileaks showed a curia fighting among themselves. Ratzinger has never been able to handle any confrontations.He’s simply worn out.It’s back to Mozart and the tomes.

Under Ratzinger  and JP ll, the papacy has become so centralized as to be unworkable. Bishops’ conferences from individual countries have become so marginalized and toothless having ceded power to Rome. The walls  have come crashing down around a very vulnerable, high strung man, Joseph Ratzinger.

Of course it did  not have to be  this way, but it’s the curial  model— top down and monarchical  which Rome has decided on. At a time in history when  power has become diffused on a horizontal plane, the Vatican is still in a vertical silo. In its present form it has become dysfunctional. It is a mess and will continue to be for a long time.

The institutional Roman Church  has placed reliable functionaries in major diocese after major diocese, men who have sworn to carry out the diktaks of the centre.This has  not been unfavorably compared to an ecclesiastical Politburo.They are terrified of consulting the third arm of the   magisterium—the sensus fidelium, the Spirit speaking through the baptized.These docile bishops can not think creatively.They owe their positions to their slave-like obedience.Colour this institution gray.

We remember the words of Pope Leo Xll at the end of his long pontificate (1903) which began the great history of Catholic social teaching: “I was never afraid to appoint men who disagreed with me” he said. Not the last two popes. They leached so much vitality out of the Church with their “my way or the highway” approach. Good men were broken  and ushered into an ecclesiastical black hole.

This top-down model of Church was rejected at Vatican ll. The people of God, the great “discipleship of equals” was supposed to be the new model. But this never happened. Organizations of whatever stripe act in the same way. It is a sociological truth that they replicate themselves until it becomes obvious that a real aggiornamento ultimately takes place. Those clerics in power hate to cede it. The will to power, the aphrodisiac of the celibate, is difficult to control. But  a church of Jesus it is not about power. It is about a radical egalitarianism, service in the reign of God, championing universal dignity.This has not happened. In a way it’s pure Newtonian physics.Action, a powerful Spirit movement, a delicious, well fermented new wine exploded the old wineskins and created a period of reaction. We are coming to the end of this period.The results have been disastrous—massive exodus  from an  institution which could not read the signs of the times, in particular, the voice of women and the cry of the earth. It could not countenance a new understanding of human sexuality.The New increasingly was found outside the walls of the institution. The Church began to act like a soulless bureaucracy. Nobody phrased it better than the German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.Just before his death in Berlin in 1945, he pointed out the disastrous consequences of refusing to listen.

The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear … Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.

So now a new opportunity presents itself. 78 years old when he mounted the papal throne, Joseph Ratzinger  was seen as a caretaker and he lived up to this expectation. He did not bring anything new. In 1958 a 78 year old Italian peasant similarly was seen as a caretaker pope but Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXlll) transformed the Catholic Church. The Church simply can not return to its old ways—clerical, hierarchical,monarchical and with ears closed shut.. Those days are gone forever.

We now need a Pope John XXiV.

Veni Sancte Spiritu!


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