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.

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.

Truth, what is truth?

By far the most irritating part of a pending papal election is the increased coverage the Church receives in the editorial pages of the newspapers and on evening news programmes.

Those who at all other times positively revel in their profound ignorance of the Church’s teaching suddenly begin opining with pontifical authority on ‘the challenges facing the Church’ or, more often, ‘what the next pope must do’ to stave off ecclesial cataclysm.

When a token effort is made to bring in someone with some actual learning on the subject, inevitably they trot out the same ‘progressive voices’ from schismatic universities; a chorus line of feminists and failed priests, of mad hair and bad teeth, of eccentric knitwear and disappointing breasts.

The same hackneyed themes are canted over and again: the next pope must engage with the issue of “wimin’s ordination” and at last repeal the absurd teachings on homosexuality. Diarmaid McCullough, offering to meet reality halfway, has predicted one more ‘traditionalist pope’ before an ‘explosion’ in the Church.

The shrewish insistence on what the Church must do is enough to drive one mad.

Refreshingly, this time around there have been some voices on sanity and orthodoxy trying to make themselves heard. Brave souls like Tim Stanley at the Telegraph and Ashley McGuire at the Washington Post have both posted coherent rebuttals to the nonsense hogging the print pages. It’s a nice by product of the ‘e-‘ era that people like them can offer some counterpoint under their paper’s banner head.

They offer a patient, if justifiably annoyed, explanation that the teaching of the Church, and the election of Peter’s successor, cannot be viewed, dissected and discussed through the prism of politics; the only mindset secular commentators can think to use. They lay out the basic differences between political theory and social philosophy on the one hand, and faith, revelation and Divine Law on the other. Both give an excellent beginner’s guide to engaging with Catholic issues at this time but I fear both will fall on deaf ears.

From what I have observed over the years when speaking to atheists, agnostics, well meaning Protestants and even (Lord preserve us) Guardian journalists, it’s not that they don’t understand the role of objective, unchanging truth in Catholic teaching – that is the very thing that upsets them.

In a culture which has broken free of any anchoring principles, religious or other, all that is left is an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” comparison of truths. But these ‘truths’ are, as the (still current) pope has demonstrated, relative and shifting. Those who still claim for themselves the fruit of the tree of knowledge internalise every discernment of right and wrong. Human discernment alone is a judgement on incomplete knowledge. As a result, moral relativists (no pejorative intended) have to shift their footing in the face of changing circumstances, experience and the competing truths of those around them, ending up in a complicated bull fight with the realities of life.

Their best defences against getting caught on the horns are the secular mottos of ‘dialogue’ and ‘mutual respect’, but the former is disingenuous and the later a sham.

Two opposed points of view cannot be equally true and, if you actually hold to your own ‘truth’ with any kind of sincerity, you can never truly respect another’s falsehood or error. In the light of this, dialogue is the mechanism by which you either begin to try to dismantle the other’s ‘truth’ under a flag of truce or engage in mutual disarmament until neither of you really believe in anything.

This is why the Church inspires such rage. By asserting the reality of the Truth, which exists outside us, it rejects the premise of hypocrisy implied by ‘mutual respect’ and, by refusing to engage in ‘dialogue’ on issues which it holds as settled and certain, it denies those outside the Truth the opportunity to diffuse its importance or reverse its implications. Instead of a bull which can be danced around in different directions to suit the need, truth becomes a brick wall which there is no getting past.

I have have seen this illustrated throughout my education. As an undergraduate studying under the much quoted Dr Tina Beattie, the teaching of John Paul the Great that priestly ordination was reserved by Divine Law to men alone (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) was spoken of with especial bitterness not because of the teaching itself but because it was declared definitive and not open to question or discussion, slamming the door on a cultural war of attrition from within the Church.

It is a great shame that the source of serenity in faith, the certain nature of truth, the rock we cling to in times of trouble and confusion, is encountered by others only as the solid surface against they collide in their disorientation.

New Beginnings & Bonkers Bishops

I had intended to begin writing earlier this week and I had a few ideas. But the Pope’s announcement made thinking, let alone writing, about anything else seem fairly absurd, so I shall save my witterings on firearms for another time.

It’s been an interesting week to be a canon law student. For a few months now we have been told, more than once, about what it was like to study canon law in the years following Vatican II, before the new code of canon law was finished; how everything was being learned in the moment. We are going through much the same thing now. We have exhausted the number of ways we can say that we do know that the Pope can resign.

Now we are left with more questions the more we think about it. What do you call an emeritus Pope? What colour does he wear? Will he say mass in public? Can he preach? Will he have a titular See and a roman church? Can he publish? Does he need an imprimatur? All of these things will have to be addressed, either before Benedict resigns or as the first order of business for his successor. Interesting days ahead in the lecture hall.

But we have already had some interesting lessons to learn from past.

Canon 187 says that anyone can freely resign an ecclesiastical office, though for it to be valid they must be sui compos. This sets up an interesting catch 22 in which, if you’re nuts, you can’t resign. This point was illustrated rather colourfully throughout the middle of the 19th century.

In 1859, James Duggan was named bishop of Chicago at the tender age of 34. He eventually left office 21 years later. Earlier than expected perhaps, but also ten years after he was sent to a purpose built convent in St Louis because he was ‘hopelessly insane’.

And I do notDuggan mean the modern definition of mental illness where he was a bit blue, said some sad things, pushed his dinner away and didn’t take his mood medication. I mean proper, talking to the furniture, eating his slippers and moo-ing at his curia bonkers.

Since there was no penal process in canon law for removing a bishop for being bats, and since he couldn’t resign, not being in his right mind, Chicago had a coadjutor bishop for ten years, whom Duggan easily outlived, being as healthy as the horse he often thought himself to be. Eventually the decision was taken to elevate the See to an archdiocese, allowing Rome to appoint a successor over Duggan’s head.

So whatever we feel about the Pope’s clearly fragile health, we can be grateful he is wise enough to know his own situation, whatever it is, and do what he discerns to be best.

The sentiment from world leaders and media talking heads, who frankly never cared what Pope Benedict said during his reign, is that he is a principled, dignified, humble leader doing something historic and noble. All true.

Many of us in the Church have been wrestling with mixed emotions. The Pope is unquestionably looking unwell. He has certainly acted with dignity and with the greatest care for his office and the whole Church. At the same time, many of us felt as though our parent had resigned. Ill health and age change them, limit them, but it doesn’t lessen our respect for them or the ties that bind us.

When the Pope dies, the funeral mass and other rites offer us a moment of release and, to employ a piece of post-modern, crypto-feminist psychobabble: closure. In this case we have to somehow rend our spiritual certainty and emotional attachment from Benedict, allow it to float free for a time and then let it settle on the next man to emerge on the balcony. Of course we will do it, and of course we all trust that the Pope is right to do what he is doing, he’s the Pope. For now. But it’s harder then it has been.

A recusant postcard

I have recently come across this photo-picture of His Holiness the Pope receiving His Majesty Francis II, rightful heir of the House of Stuart and king of England, Scotland, Ireland and France.


God save His Majesty over the water.