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The Politics Of The Papacy

This morning, I touched on the political ramifications of the next Pope. In the comments, several people questioned whether the choosing of the Pope should involve politics at all, and whether non-Catholics such as myself should have any opinion at all on the next head of the Roman Catholic church.

To address the second point first, I have to admit I really don't have any right to say who I think should be the next Pope. But I say that with one caveat -- I would be appalled, disgusted, and dismayed if any leader of the American Catholic Church would be appointed. At the height of the child sex abuse scandal, a full 2/3s (117 of 175) of the Cardinals (correction: bishops -- see Update #2, below) were involved in it -- either as perpetrators of the deeds, attempted to conceal it and transferred the pedophiles to new, unsuspecting parishes, or simply did nothing while it occurred. All three actions were violations of both the Laws of Man and their Church.

On the first point, it must be remembered that the Pontiff is also a political figure. Vatican City is an independent nation, and and the Pope is the head of state. And the political influence of the nation of Vatican City is far in excess of its apparent power through population, economics, or military power. And as such, who the Cardinals choose as the next Pope is a supremely political matter.

And there's nothing inherently wrong with politics. While I've always loved Dave Barry's definition of "politics" ("From the Latin 'poli,' meaning 'many,' and 'tics,' meaning 'small, biting insects'"), it's simply the art of people getting along. Everything is, in some sense or another, "political." It's only when the "politics" take precedence over the actual getting-along part that it becomes a problem.

And so I, along with the rest of the world, await to see who the Cardinals choose as the next Vicar of Christ. And while I certainly don't think "political" concerns should be the determining factor, they would be fools and worse if such considerations did not weigh in their deliberations.

And say what you wish about the Catholic Church -- the men who run it are no fools.


Update #1: I'd like to thank Harvey and Faith for commenting on the lack of the Vatican's military. It gives me an excuse to add back in a line I'd intended to insert, but slipped my mind:

Stalin once famously asked "how many divisions has the Pope?" when dismissing any concern about the disapproval of the Catholic Church. But while it is true that the Heir to The Throne Of Saint Peter has no divisions, his followers are legion.

Update #2: Jim and Julie both questioned my citation of "117 of 175 Cardinals." They're quite right, I meant bishops. I was misled by the prominence of Bernard Cardinal Law, late of Boston, at the forefront of the scandal. He held both titles, and as a non-Catholic it was that which led to my confusion. Thanks, folks.


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Comments (37)

Personally, I consider his ... (Below threshold)

Personally, I consider his political side only marginally important, since - like the UN - he has no army to back up his political decrees.

Apparently Cardinal Bernard... (Below threshold)

Apparently Cardinal Bernard Law is not only going to take part in the Conclave (he will preside/has presided over a part of the Pope's funeral), but his input is going to be sought by other Cardinals as to who the next Pope should be.


Well, despite having no arm... (Below threshold)

Well, despite having no army the Papacy has a different audience with political decrees. It has influenced world politics for 2000 years--long before, and arguably long after any of the current's world powers have done so. Love them or hate them but don't underestimate them.

I would like to know where ... (Below threshold)
Jim Jindra:

I would like to know where you get your numbers from, Jay. 117 of 175 Cardinals were involved in the sex scandal? Perhaps you mean bishops? There are only about 190 Cardinals in the world.

Once again, you prove that agnostics ought to be careful when they criticize Catholicism. If you don't have your facts straight, you end up looking foolish. As a Catholic, I agree that an American Pope would have its drawbacks for the Church. However, I disagree as to why. It seems you have allowed yourself to keep one of the remaining socially acceptable prejudices--anti-Catholicism.

Yeah, I was also wondering ... (Below threshold)

Yeah, I was also wondering about those numbers.

I'm really hoping they pick... (Below threshold)
Master of None:

I'm really hoping they pick a Cuban as the next pope. Castro would shit his pants (if he's not already doing that).

Well, umm. As the Cardinal... (Below threshold)

Well, umm. As the Cardinals get on their knees to pray for God's divine inspiration to make the right choice, I really don't think they will consider bloggers for that inspiration or think too hard about geopolitics.

But no worries, God won't inspire them to pick an American Cardinal. But not for the reason you think. God won't inspire them to pick an American Cardinal because the allegiance of an American Cardinal would be questioned (unfairly) throughout the world flock. Selecting a Cardinal from the world's only superpower would weaken the Church.

Repentance and the forgiveness of sin is a central tenant of the Church. Those calling for heads to roll need to see the actions of priests, bishops, and cardinals in this light. If they were repentant and subsequently absolved of sin, no further punishment is required by the church. So core Catholic faith was at the heart of the priest scandals, and geopolitical considerations were (properly) mostly ignored by the Vatican to the dismay of non-Catholics and Catholic liberals. Too bad. If you are appalled and aghast at this, you are welcome to keep your faith system and I'll keep mine.

"So core Catholic faith was... (Below threshold)
Master of None:

"So core Catholic faith was at the heart of the priest scandals, "

You can't be serious?

I disagree with your statem... (Below threshold)

I disagree with your statement that you don't have any right to say who should be the next pope. You have every right to voice your opinion, just not much of a right to think the decision makers will listen to it. But then I don't expect them to listen to the opinion of the many Catholics (of which I'm one) either.

My hope is that the decision makers will do a better job picking the pope than they did handling the altar boy scandal. (Please excuse the unfortunate pun.)

JPII can't escape being labelled political because he was, and I hope the next pope is too. The difference from nation-sates is in how the pope approaches politics. JPII did a fine job with the communists.

What's your authority for 1... (Below threshold)

What's your authority for 117 of 175 Bishops were involved in this scandal?

Master of None: Yes, core ... (Below threshold)

Master of None: Yes, core faith is the reason that these priests were allowed to continue, and is the reason they were not sacrificed in the public square. Faith - not embarrassment or cover-ups or political considerations.

It's reported that the Conc... (Below threshold)

It's reported that the Conclave is to begin April 18th. You can read all about the goings on and how many Cardinals comprise the College of Cardinals who are to complete the Conclave and determine the next Pope...here.

And <a href="http://www.ame... (Below threshold)

And read here about the Cardinal Electors -- of whom number 117 who are eligible and included in the Cardinal Electoral group, although I am not sure that all of the 117 will be present or voting, just that there are 117 Cardinal Electors (who are eligible to vote/participate in the voting process for to determine the next Pope) (who also has to accept the vote, because there is nothing preventing anyone voted for the office from declining to accept).

The majority of the present Cardinal Electors are from Europe.

I mean no particular offens... (Below threshold)

I mean no particular offense to McCain when I say that it is the cavalier attitude which he/she exhibits which also seems to be the attitude of the “perps” in the Catholic church that so offends many victims of that institution. I am among those who have been abused and those who expect the process of justice to carry through in all circumstances, the forgiveness of the Catholic church notwithstanding.

I am no longer a Catholic but I attended Catholic schools in the late 50’s and early ‘60’s. For three of those years the abuse that I and many of my fellow students endured would be more accurately described as torture. I am in no way exaggerating. Some of my compatriots were sexually assaulted and even now, over 40 years later, there are pending lawsuits concerning these matters.

So when people offer wishy washy statements that seemingly exonerates criminals who have greatly harmed people, harmed them to the extent that their lives for many decades have been horribly impacted, I find it impossible to just let it go by without a comment.

It is not my intention to pick a fight and I do understand that McCain may have only been trying to explain how some matters are viewed from within the Church with no implication for people like me being intended. But it was a poor way to do it.

I guess it was the gratuitous “too bad” that compelled me to respond.

Sexual abuse and abuse of a... (Below threshold)

Sexual abuse and abuse of all other kinds happens throughout humanity. Human beings are the Catholic Church on this Earth, for the most part when they are not Saints as was and is Pope John Paul II among others, such that it's the 'fruition' of the sin committed and perpetuated by some to allow their sin to separate you from God and from the Church.

Meaning, it is not the Church and it is not God who fails but it is sin via the behaviors by some human beings. The Catholic Church is not isolated from any other human affiliation in that whatever sins exist within humanity, as humanity exists within the Church, there is therefore the liklihood of those sins occuring...and occuring wherever humans socialize and congregate.

I agree that it is horrible when someone who is relied upon to be a figure of faith and example of goodness and protector of innocence is found to be active in sin and harming by that sin others who otherwise rely on them, or try to.

It is not an excuse to write that but it is a suggestion that whoever is victimized by sin in whatever terrible fashion should not then allow that sin experience to disenfranchise them from God, nor from the Catholic Church as congregation of Christianity. It is important to realize that the sin itself and the fallacy and failure of humans who are involved in that sin (call it psychological impairment if you need to because that works, too, within this context) is the vehicle, and yet the sin is not from God, and whoever practices such is not with God.

Every one of us humans has had at some time in our life a profoundly awful experience, or many of them, depending. It is not the Catholic Church that is engaged in whatever sin that damages and violates, but the sin itself as active through and by indivduals -- it's the nature of that sort of evil to victimize....

There are recourses for that but mostly faith should not be abandoned because some humans let us down, harm us, torture us, even.

I hope the best for you, MichaelC, as to a healing for your suffering from bad experiences.

As a Catholic, I don't read... (Below threshold)

As a Catholic, I don't read that any serious person of faith has been 'wishywashy' or permissive (here or elsewhere) to or about anyone who commits such grave sins, or sins at all.

Unfortunately, there was a problem in the U.S. Catholic Churches (at least exposed here) that exposed sexual predators having infiltrated the Priesthood and I've written about that before, but, the major problem was who was admitted to the Seminaries and then afterward, who they sponsored and encouraged to also be admitted (gatekeepers, so to speak, allowing others similar to themselves to gain entry to the Seminaries and thus, the Priesthood). And that problem has since been identified and changed, such that the admissions processes are now different to eliminate certain behaviors from gaining admissions to Seminaries/the Priesthood.

It's a case of society -- among which is the Catholic Church -- not being as willing to confront a terrible problem until quite recently. The Church has confronted the problem, as have other human organizations. So, it's misleading to focus only on the Catholic Church and to miss or avoid focusing on the greater social changes involved here. Unfortunately, sexual predators will and always have been drawn to professions that provided them access to potential victims.

My view: Repentance and for... (Below threshold)

My view: Repentance and forgiveness may be a central tenant of the Church, but the Church did not have to grant absolution without true penance being performed first - like get ye down to the police station. Handing out a couple of Hail Mary's just doesn't cut it.

"..who also has to accept t... (Below threshold)

"..who also has to accept the vote, because there is nothing preventing anyone voted for the office from declining to accept" -S-

Interesting. Hard to imagine refusing a divinely-inspired choice so I wonder if it has happened before? Here is what the Pope said about it in his instructions:

"I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office."


One thing I always found od... (Below threshold)

One thing I always found odd is that the victims expected the matter to be taken care of by the church in the first place. It was first and primarily a police matter. Though I find it odd, it does appear to be similar to other cases of child sex abuse in that most victims hold out hope that the person who abused them will acknowledge it and apologize to them. Unfortunately, it rarely happens. And often when it does, it is purely self-serving.

Michael,There is a g... (Below threshold)

There is a great distinction between church and the steely cold arm of state. Within the civil realm, you have the right to sue the pants off the Catholic Church, and priests can (and should) go to jail for their crimes.

The cavalier attitudes I see are the attitudes toward my church's particular faith system. Nobody is going to push the Church around on our faith, and I was glad to see Cardinal Law remain in Boston as the heat swirled around him. I hope that the reason he was recalled to Rome was because he felt (or his superior felt) he couldn't serve the faithful well, and not for any other reason. I am GLAD he is involved in the Pope's funderal. All of that aside, there is some change happening within the church that will make you happier, but that movement is based on prayerful reflection rather than direct lobbying.

So I am not exonnerating criminals from the laws of state. They are, however, being exonnerated by God Himself according to the Catholic faith. That is a different matter entirely.

I don't feel you have picked a fight at all. You have expressed your view on this issue which also allowed me to make this very important distinction, a distinction often not understood.

... (Below threshold)

Clergy sexual abuse in the "other" religions.

Clergy pedophiles "per-capita" among the Jehovah's Witnesses exceed the Catholic church .

This is due to the church elders enforced 'code of silence' aka the notorious,"two witness take-down".

The Jehovah's Witnesses Church leaders absurd requirement of having TWO WITNESSES to the crime of child molestation.

The Worldwide Problem of Child Abuse and Jehovah's Witnesses

Is it Really a Pedophile Paradise ? What is the truth, what is the myth?

Myth 1: Jehovah's Witnesses protect children within their organization against confessed or convicted child molesters.

What is the TRUTH and what is the MYTH?

Get the answers to these questions. http://www.silentlambs.org/answers/index.cfm

About the author Danny Haszard: Former Jehovah's Witness X 33 years and 3rd generation (been there). Now a counter-cult educator. My home page, WATCHTOWER WHISTLEBLOWER: http://www.DannyHaszard.com

McCain: I didn't write abo... (Below threshold)

McCain: I didn't write about specific persons who have declined to accept the office once selected, but about the process, which relies upon ASKING the selected if they accept the selection, and then abiding by their acceptance and/or decline. As in, they are not compelled to accept, and the acceptance is a choice of will, not coercion.

Divine inspiration still accommodates free will for us humans. To deny that is to deny Divine Will.

julie: I agree theoretical... (Below threshold)

julie: I agree theoretically but I've yet to ever know anyone in the Catholic Church who would or has or will ever respond to a complaint about sexual abuse by suggesting a few Hail Mary's will solve the problem.

The Hail Mary, by the way, is a prayer and it does resolve and solve and assist but it's also not a foolish, naive or flippant process by which serious sin is waved away, as if by "majick." There's nothing counter intuitive or trivial in the prayer and it is and can provide a transcendental experience.

But it's not dispensed like a Pez, just so you know. That's actually a rather prejudicial assumption that many make about Catholics, who are not Catholics, that we approach the use of the Hail Mary (or other prayers) as substitute with finality any problem. Miracles occur, yes, but most Catholics include a full range of responses to serious conditiions and issues and that includes saying (many) Hail Marys but it's not regarded as salve or substitute in any incomplete sense or bandaid fashion when other remedies are in need of being pursued, also.

Yes -S-, I read wh... (Below threshold)

Yes -S-,

I read what you wrote. What I wrote was a question out of historical curiosity. How interesting to know if that has ever happened. And I guess we can't know, because except for a couple of accounts we don't know anything about the content of the deliberation.

When I posted the Holy Father's instructions, I assumed that it obvoiusly supports your point, which is there is a choice. I base that on the word "ask" in his instructions. But wait a minute -- would a Cardinal refuse the request of the Holy Father and the divinely-inspired choice of the Cardinals? I guess it is possible, however, even when our bishop moves priests around, it is always in the form of a "request" and they ALWAYS follow, sometimes crying.

I think a Cardinal would need to step down if he refused the Papacy.

Obviously, an exaggeration ... (Below threshold)

Obviously, an exaggeration but still represents how unseriously the problem was treated for decades. Prayer by the criminal does nothing to ameliorate the pain of the victim or protect future victims from harm. Without that, it is not true penance but just a couple of Hail Marys. Absolution shd not have been given. Until recently, and mainly through the justice system, I have seen very little, to zero, intervention by the church. Often remedies only ensured there would be even more victims.

Isn't it naive to presume p... (Below threshold)

Isn't it naive to presume politics isn't going to play a role in the decision of who is the next Pope?

Certainly Church politics is going to play a role - the Conclave is going to chose the Pope that is going to take the Church and the Papacy in the direction they wish it to go. Presumably not everyone has the same vision, nor has nor will.

CanconBy "politics",... (Below threshold)

By "politics", do you mean who the UN wants, who would look good to hispanics, or the gun lobby? The answer is NO NO NO.

The cardinals pray, vote, pray, vote, deliberate if the voting isn't going well, pray and vote some more. The Catholic church isn't a political party where public opinion polls are taken and decisions are traded in a cloakroom.

Yes of course, they will look to God for guidance on where the church should be going. They will pray about who will be best to promote social justice in the world, who would best promote human dignity including life issues, and the need or lack therof for church reform. If this is what you mean by church "politics" than fine, but that word misses what is really happening.

Hmmm, a Pope good for the g... (Below threshold)

Hmmm, a Pope good for the gun lobby might be interesting.

Jay: I guess you ... (Below threshold)


I guess you have no intention of providing the source for your assertion that 117 of 175 Bishops were involved in one way or the other with the sex scandal. While I have searched for the info on my own, I have found nothing to that effect. I did learn that currently in the United States there are 255 Bishops.

actually jay, your last com... (Below threshold)

actually jay, your last comment " He held both titles" is a misnomer. ALL cardinals are bishops. They just happen to be "elite" bishops.

The pope's official title is "bishop of Rome"

I like Cardinal McCarrick f... (Below threshold)

I like Cardinal McCarrick from Washington, DC and would love to see him become our next Pope. The man has something about him and he can explain even the most complex of things very simply even to laypeople. I'm praying fo him.


McCain: a few Cardinals ha... (Below threshold)

McCain: a few Cardinals have already "refused the Papacy" by indirect method by removing their names from consideratin in the selection process, based upon their age and sense of fitness.

I don't see ANYthing wrong or exorbitantly strange or counter about that, by removing (or even refusing to accept) the Papacy, if someone as a Cardinal is aged, infirmed, or otherwise doubts their capacity to fulfill the basic job duties involved. Just because someone isn't the Pope does not therefore/thereby render them useless as a Cardinal, or as a person of faith altogether.

It'd be a terrible day that anyone who felt unable to sustain the daily duties of the Papacy would be required to "step down" as a Cardinal because of that.

I can't begin to know whatever it is that would even begin to prompt you to make such a statement, that Cardinals who refuse the Papacy should resign as Cardinals. I mean, it's among the most strange and limited statements I've ever read, anywhere.

julie: I understand what y... (Below threshold)

julie: I understand what you write among the environment of the criminal justice process/system, but, actually, absolution for confessed sins is a different process than the criminal justice system. A person can be absolved of confessed sins (it's up to the confessor to make that determinatin and absolution, it's not a given and it depends upon discerning intent by he/she who is making a confession), yes, but that does not mean that they are absolved of criminal/social responsibilities for whatever deeds they have committed or will in the future.

I can IMAGINE that SOME criminals would assume that, hey, they've been absolved of their sins, so, hey, go sin again without fear, worry, pause, but that's not the norm. Not by a long shot. People confess sins all the time and then repeat commit them -- our human problem, not the problem of forgiveness of sins, but ours as sinners -- but generally most people manage over time to remove their attachment/affiliation from sin by awareness of the problem and continual confession.

The Church doesn't absolve anyone on a criminal level, however. These are two distinct and different processes. There's no absolution for compulsion and obsessive compulsive disorders and psychosis and such and those are generally the human conditions that motivate the most egregious of awful behaviors by humans (it could be argued here that the mental disorders are not from God, are sickness, etc., and merit healing), but any process available on a spiritual level offered by the Catholic Church does not absolve anyone of social responsibility for their behaviors, nor offers encouragement for anyone to continue to commit sins.

I purposefully used the wor... (Below threshold)

I purposefully used the word criminal for a reason. These priests are criminals. And to call them any other name, no matter what the context, minimizes the seriousness of their behavior. And that minimization by some church officials rose to the level of conspiracy.

As you say, absolution is not guaranteed. So, how can a confessor absolve one of a sin this serious, knowing (or deliberately choosing to remain ignorant of) the fact that they will immediately re-sin? Would a confessor do this with any other type of sin of this magnitude? I don't think so. They are entitled to absolution but not on terms that are meaningless. Sure, your average sinner is almost guaranteed to sin again. But, your average sin is yelling at your spouse, not raping kids.

Unless corrective/protective measures are taken, i.e., the person is dealt with by the criminal justice system, I don't see how any confessor can say that the person is truly sorry and deserves to be absolved. Obviously, I don't have the stats, but these are not situations where someone is motivated on their own to confess. They are caught by the church and they're doing what they can to get out of it. Criminals are being absolved from criminal responsibilities by the church if absolution is granted merely by prayer and nothing more.

And, is not a confessor and absolution also to help the sinner not sin again? So, if absolution is based solely on prayer how is that helping the criminal not sin again? Sure, miracles are answered through prayer, but don't hold your breath. As you note, pedophile is an obsession. Look at the track records of some of these guys. They have more sex than the average heterosexual. And old age does not appear to slow them down by much if any at all. Which makes them all the more dangerous.

Do you think if a priest while giving confession began exhibiting signs of homicidal paranoid schiz, wouldn't someone in higher authority call the police and 5150 them for their own and other peoples protection? Even viewed as a mental illness, why shd this be treated any differently?

"I can't begin to know what... (Below threshold)

"I can't begin to know whatever it is that would even begin to prompt you to make such a statement, that Cardinals who refuse the Papacy should resign as Cardinals. I mean, it's among the most strange and limited statements I've ever read, anywhere." -S-

Because the inspiration for the choice came from God. And not only that, but the Holy Father made a specific written request that the Cardinal follow God's will.

Free will gives one the opportunity to fall out of favor with God. A Cardinal who refuses the Papacy, it seems to me, is rejecting God's will as He inspired the choice. That isn't Cardinal material.

But this is all moot. God won't inspire the Cardinals to pick someone so out of touch with the needs of the church. This is just a fun academic discussion.

But do you really find it so hard to believe that a Cardinal wouldn't refuse the Papacy? Do you really find it a routine matter that the most pious among us, those elevated to the position of Cardinal, would refuse God's will? Tell me why you find this a strange and limited statement?

"a few Cardinals have already "refused the Papacy" by indirect method by removing their names from consideratin in the selection process, based upon their age and sense of fitness."

That of course isn't what we are talking about. We are talking about God inspiring a choice, making the choice known, and the Cardinal turning his back on the divine choice. Do you know if this has happened in the history of the Catholic church? And if not, is the idea that it hasn't happened so strange to you?

suzi, you are so right. the... (Below threshold)

suzi, you are so right. there are a NUMBER of cardinals who can't even VOTE on who the next pope will be because of their age. shall we eliminate them as cardinals too?

That misses the point entir... (Below threshold)

That misses the point entirely, Henry. God won't inspire the Cardinals to pick someone ineligible, since God has made the eligibility rules known in advance.
]The point is Cardinals pray for divine inspiration from God. As John Paul has stated, the choice that comes to them is God's will.

If you have an example where a Cardinal refused the Papcy, let's have it. I allow that it is possible, but it would be a strange and un-holy action for a Cardinal to take.






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