A Day of Reckoning in Rome

There are few words that ring more bitter, cold and hollow in the mother tongue of the Church than Sede Vacante.

The Benedict formerly known as the Roman Pontiff has left the ecclesial stage. Having spoken to two separate clerical correspondents in the Vatican who were present around His former Holiness in these last few weeks, one of whom was there at his departure in the helicopter today, Benedict is “startlingly thin”, has lost all vision in one eye and is falling prey to regular dizzy spells. These are all symptoms commensurate with advancing brain cancer.

As was noted earlier, there is little reason for a Pope, or and bishop for that matter, to resign because of failing health unless he fears he may lose mental function and be unable to resign validly.

We have no wish to engage in idle speculation. But it is safe to assume that a man with as great a love for the Church, respect for tradition and knowledge of the law as Benedict had more on his mind when he resigned than a quite beer with his brother.

Having clarified canon law on the conclave, ensuring that the college may meet as soon as they are fully assembled the Vatican and not have to wait 15 days, Benedict has ensured that the period of Sede Vacante will be no longer than it must be.

After the clear consensus before the last conclave, we return to the more traditional ‘anyone’s guess’ ofwho will emerge on the balcony. But what we can predict is that, for the first time in many years, the reform of the Curia is perhaps the most serious and pressing issue they shall have to contend with. The casual practices, questionable networks and lax attitudes of civil Rome have shown themselves to have invasive roots which need aggressive pruning.

Meanwhile, across the Tiber, the secular state of ‘Italy’ has, in a demonstration of mass self awareness, actually voted for a professional comedian, Signore Beppe Grillo, to lead their ‘government’. Because of the unique institutional realities of Roman ‘democracy’, it is not yet clear who will be appointed Prime Minister, nevertheless the current front runner is believed to be Silvio Burlesqueoni, who’s party recievd some 26% of the vote.

On either side of the Eternal City, predicting the outcome of an election is a fool’s game.

Further Canonical Observations on Cardinal O’Brien

Cardinal O’Brien’s situation continues to develop and to raise more questions.

News that his resignation, submitted late last year, has been accepted by Rome and that he will voluntarily remove himself from the conclave confirms the grave seriousness of the allegations made against him.

The speed with which he has departed from office and taken himself out of the conclave (it is unclear as yet whether he will simply not attend or if he is resigning from the College) is remarkable, as is the adherence thus far to canonical process. As was mentioned in an earlier post, the complaint was made privately, through the proper channels, directly to the Holy See and there was no conflation of civil and canonical process, yielding a very quick result indeed.

This contrasts with the increasingly ugly situation in Los Angeles involving the former Archbishop, Cardinal Mahoney, who shielded priests who violated canon 1395 §2 from exposure. Since the release, by his successor Archbishop Gomez, of curial documents showing the scale of his involvement, Cardinal Mahoney has engaged in a very ugly, very public exchange with Archbishop Gomez, who has issued canonically empty (see c.357 §2) decree removing Mahoney from ‘public ministry’. Members of the Archdiocese have organised a petition to bar Mahoney from the conclave while he continues to assert his right to attend and insists he will travel to Rome.

Both situations are extremly regrettable and do horrific damage to the Church and the faith of those involved.

In these situations the Church is often criticized for being insitutional, slow moving and unable to react. Yet, as the situation around Cardinal O’Brien has shown, the truth is that the canonical process can actually proceed remarkably swiftly if used properly. Canon law is the oldest complete legal system in current use, dating back, depending on where you distinguish it from Roman law, at least 1200 years. Frustration, confusion and acrimony usually arrises when the process is ignored or improperly applied, as has happened in Los Angeles.

Notes on the unpleasantness with Cardinal O’Brien

The are few things more dispiriting to members and friends than another round of allegations of impropriety against the clergy.

Suffice to say that of course we all deplore those instances which have come to light, have witnessed the tragic results for the victims, seen the unfair collateral burden of suspicion placed on the majority of loyal servants of the people of God and winced at the further erosion of Mother Church’s due respect to preach the Gospel.

The recent complaints against Cardinal O’Brien are of course totally unproven so far and we must assume the best of a man who has proven a outspoken champion of the truth in his current office.

However, since the matter will no doubt remain in the secular media, we would like to make some canonical observations for the clarification of members.

As far as we can tell, there has been no attempt by the three priests filing the complaints to apply for civil redress. It’s seems that through a “high ranking official” at the archdiocese, whom I would presume to be the judicial vicar, they have applied their case directly to the Papal Nuncio.

Fr. Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, has confirmed that the Holy Father is treating the matter himself.

This would be the appropriate and canonically correct form to take if the complaint concerns a serious delict reserved under canon law to the Holy See. Of particular seriousness is that some of the alleged actions took place with Cardinal O’Brien acting as spiritual director. This is an especially privileged relationship in canon law, not equal to that of the confessional but closely guarded in law and to be held in the highest respect.

Also to be noted is that the complaint was submitted before the Pope announced his intention to resign and without any publicity. It seems that those making the complaint have only become public out of concern that the matter would be dropped during the Sede Vacante.

Very little, if anything, can be said with certainty at this point but what is for sure is that Cardinal O’Brien enjoys the canonical right to a good reputation, not to be impugned without full canonical process. We intend to fully respect this and hope that the matter will be resolved swiftly, with proper attention to the norm of law and due respect for the rights of all parties.

Advice to Cardinals,Bishops and Priests from Edmund Burke

Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.


Edmund Burke.  Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Recusant Reviews: BBC Question Time

One of the pleasures of watching Question Time is the consolatory confirmation that anyone who got into Oxford, met all the right people, got on in public life and ended up on the telly was almost certainly an apple-for-teacher creep at school.

You ask how this is confirmed? Simply by observing how mustard keen they are to be picked first for every question. Of course, the statesmanlike veneer reasserts itself pretty quickly, but keep your eyes peeled as Dimbleby barks out the first name. The Hermione Grainger smirk is always there. ‘Expecto Patronum!’, the lucky schoolboy all but ejaculates.

This week, however, wide-eyed panic flashed across the faces of the first-called.

Connoiseurs of the show will recognise this as the once-a-series ‘what if I think the same as Peter Hitchens??’ conundrum. Visibly relieved to be following the Mail columnist’s unremarkable opening salvo on trial by jury, The Reverend Giles Fraser blurted out: ‘I couldn’t disagree with you more Peter! (his zeal was something we have not been accustomed to in the established clergy). A brief silence followed as if anything else was an afterthought.

To be fair to Hitchens, pub bore of the year as he may be, he played a blinder last night and seemed to be toying with the more than usually left-leaning panel (Michael Heseltine was the other purported right winger, joined by Diane Abbot, Vince Cable and the groovy vicar Fraser). With Hitchens at one moment calling for some jurors to be rejected for lack of education, the next denouncing Thatcher’s right to buy and quoting Martin Luther King in support of racial harmony, the rest of the class seemed utterly bewildered by his omnivorous opinions; they resorted to mauling the few little Englanders who emerged from the audience.

A marked tendency amongst audience joiner-inners in recent years became almost a competition in this latest episode, and a highly entertaining one at that. I am speaking of the new fashion by which they announce their link with officialdom before making their contribution. ‘I am a serving police officer’ bellowed one, in a voice that made you sure she was just that;  I am a caseworker’ (a what now?) offered another. ‘I was an Olympic Gamesmaker’, said a scout-master type, before commencing an ode to multiculturalism. 

Heseltine, a man your correspondent assures you he has great sympathy for, seemed confused, even to the point of directly contradicting himself in one answer. Towards the end when his phone rang, cutting short a slightly rambling speech, it seemed a kindly act of the gods. One wonders – harsh as it may sound – if the Papal way out might not recommend itself to this worthy veteran.

And then the evening gradually wore down to the proforma austerity debate, which does so much to keep us from important topics like horse meat and benefit scroungers nowadays. Injury time was being played out and Hitchens had sight of an improbable victory. Not all were ready to lie down though. When one panelist dutifully – listlessly, even – remarked that the coffers were empty and there would need to be cuts, Abbot roused herself for one last hurrah. “Tell it”, she declaimed, her open hand raised in a Ciceronian attitude, “to the people of Lewisham!” The caseworkers seemed to like it.

Your Guide to the (other) Roman Election

As the College of Cardinals prepares to gather in the Eternal City for their solemn deliberations and the Vatican press office hints at possible last minute changes to the laws governing Sede Vacante, across the Tiber there is another change of Government to be examined. The secular state of ‘Italy’ is currently preparing to hold ‘elections’, and with the return of Silvio Burlesqueoni to the contest it is sure to make for entertaining viewing.

In deference to those whose education was light on the classics, I shall offer a brief resumé of electoral tradition in Rome as a window into current events.

In the glorious days of ancient Rome, the inhabitants of the city, known as ‘citizens’, were organised into geographical constituencies for the systematic distribution of bribes by candidates for public office.

The Senate, which was unelected, functioned as a venue for the coquettishly dressed, metrosexual elite to sit among their peers and read poetry aloud, analogous to our modern Starbucks Coffee shops.

From time to time, retired war heroes, scions of the nobility and winners of a gladiatorial version of Strictly Come Dancing would walk through the streets of Rome attempting to incite riots. The two most successful at this were proclaimed ‘consuls’. The function of the dual-consulship was to ensure administrative paralysis.

Government existed mostly in the form the generals of Rome’s legions of well trained and expertly marshalled soldiers. These were perpetually marched backward and forward across the French to pick fights with the Germans, popping home from time to time to proclaim themselves Supreme Dictator for Life.

Despite the haphazard nature of Government, ancient Rome gave birth to some of the greatest works of literature, architecture and philosophy known to man. Following the decline of the Western Empire, custody of the city passed to the Church, which lovingly preserved the treasures which formed her temporal patrimony.

Modern ‘Italy’ was founded in the late 19th century by a swarthy Lombard freemason named Garibaldi. He, like many modern Italians, was out of work and swanning about Europe with a large pair of sunglasses perched on his head. Through the improbable tightness of his trousers, he persuaded the wives of many an important man to subscribe large sums for him to raise an army to march on Rome.

Today, ‘Italy’ has what we in the trade call a perfectly bicameral system of proportional representation. This means that two legislative bodies, with identical and mutually nullifying powers, are ‘elected’ by a complicated combination of sexual harassment, gerrymandering and Buggin’s turn.

The business of Government is handled by the Prime Minister, also called the President of the Council of Ministers. While often said to be seeking election, candidates for this position are appointed solely by the ‘President of the Italian Republic’; a shadowy figure who, while traditionally unnameable by Italians, is widely believed abroad to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With these details at their fingertips, it is hoped that members and friends will be able to enjoy an informed view of the proceedings.

Some notes from the Archives

This is the first of an occasional series of extracts from the riches of our muniments.

“After all these prophetic and evengelical and apostolic writings which we have set forth above, on which the Catholic Church by the Grace of God is founded, we have thought this fact also ought to be published, namely, that, although the universal Catholic Church spread throughout the world is the one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless the Holy Roman Church has not been preferred to other Churches by reason of synodal decrees, but she has obtained the primacy by the evangelical voice of the Lord and Saviour saying “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against her.  I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

Decretum Gelasium c.520 Pope Gelasius I