Popes are human too

October 18, 2013 § 27 Comments

I was musing on Pope Benedict’s resignation recently and had a few “what if I was in his shoes” thoughts.  They are worth what you paid for them, but I thought I’d blog them anyway because, well, why not?

The first thing to understand is that the conclave that elects the Pope doesn’t have the capacity to confer super powers on the new Pope.  Popes put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.  Infallible proclamations are extraordinarily rare, and even invocations of fallible magisterial authority on matters of doctrine are not all that common.  Denzinger isn’t the fattest book on my bookshelf, and it covers magisterial documents over the entire history of the Church over a huge range of topics.

My impression of Benedict is that his primary concern, above all others, was liturgical reform and in particular reconciliation with the SSPX.  For those who don’t know, the SSPX is a traditionalist group which broke off from the Church over the changes to the Mass that happened in 1969.  Benedict was, clearly, very sympathetic to their concerns.

However, in the end, the SSPX refused to re-enter into full communion with the Church.  They got a Pope who was willing to work with them, but they ultimately just couldn’t bring themselves to submit to the authority of the Roman Pontiff — not even an extremely conciliatory Pontiff with deep sympathy for their cause.  Too much time in the wilderness had taken its toll, and now the SSPX had become just a different kind of Protestant.  I can only imagine how discouraging this was to Benedict, already an elderly and frail man with failing health.

So now we have a different kind of Pope.  He is human too.

Salvation history tends to work that way.  God is always offering us gifts we don’t deserve; and when we refuse there are consequences.

§ 27 Responses to Popes are human too

  • c matt says:

    Do you think he would have stayed on longer had the SSPX accepted his offer? (I know, alternative histories and all that).

  • Zippy says:

    c matt:
    I don’t know, obviously. But a success like that in the area most important to him would certainly have been very energizing. Health and well being are a holistic deal. I have no doubt that his faltering health really was the proximate reason for his resignation. But happy and fulfilled people tend to be healthier and stronger than frustrated and demoralized people, and also to keep at what they are doing despite health problems. Discouraged people, not so much.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I looked into SSPX a few years ago, but demurred. I have no dog in this hunt, but I’m sort of baffled by the expectations of Rome and you.

    From the last link:

    “However, the SSPX leader said that the confusion ended when it became clear that reconciliation would require the SSPX to recognize the validity of Vatican II teachings and liturgical reforms. The group “could not and we never can” accept that condition, he said.”

    Well…yeah. They left over Vatican II. Why would anyone on either side expect that they would validate the very reason for their schism?

    I know the US’ supposed party of small government does this all the time, but people who actually believe things don’t; regardless of whether those beliefs are actually right or wrong. People can explain to me in a thousand different ways how President Obama really is a modern centrist trying to work with both sides of the country. (I actually agree with that very basic premise; provided we define centrist to mean his ideas are in the middle of each Americans’ ideas. That is: in the middle of modern socialism.)

    That has no bearing on the fact that I reject American political centrism as something evil.

  • Zippy says:

    If we want good leaders we have to make the right kind of people want to lead us. We need to make leading us into an encouraging, life affirming opportunity; not a discouraging exercise in frustration and constant brain damaged nonsense.

    Followers frequently get the leaders they deserve; and in this case the SSPX were (I think – I’m just musing here) followers nearest and dearest to Benedict’s heart. The odds that they’ll get another like him are pretty slim.

  • Zippy says:

    My read is that a bunch of trads left over the changes to the Mass, and Vatican II became their rationalization for staying away. That is, without the changes to the Mass – which despite popular misconception were not a part of Vatican II – I doubt they would have split in the first place. Certainly their “movement” would have been much smaller.

    But I haven’t studied the SSPX closely so I could be completely wrong about that. Commenters are welcome to present facts against my musings and vague impressions.

  • Popes are only human, but many Catholics have a tendency to canonize his every hiccup. Depending on their ideological leanings, Catholics are either rejoicing or panicking about the Big Scandalous Interviews that Pope Francis has given, even though Francis himself would probably be the first to tell us that private interviews do not even rise to the level of an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium.

    Personally, I think we focus so much on the pope because the quality of bishops over the last fifty years has been hit and miss to put it lightly. For every Burke there is a Mahony; for every Chaput there is a Weakland. For many Catholics Bl. John Paul II was either an anchor of sanity during the height of the crazy times, or an insufferable right-wing tyrant who sought to strangle the Spirit of Vatican II (if only, if only.) If you lack confidence in the local clergy and the bishop, for whatever reason, it makes sense that you’d always be waiting for the latest pronouncements from Rome.

    I’m a Traditionalist but I’m not nearly as worried about Francis as some other Trads appear to be. One way or another, he’s the pope we deserve for our times.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    My read is that a bunch of trads left over the changes to the Mass,

    I think the issues of religious liberty, ecumenism/dialogue and collegiality loomed just as large if not larger especially in reference to the overwhelming French character of the SSPX which had of course strong roots in that country’s reactionary tradition. For reference see some of the works of ++Lefebvre himself: http://www.amazon.com/They-Have-Uncrowned-Marcel-Lefebvre/dp/0935952055/ref=la_B001JP0PPU_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382112274&sr=1-5


    I tend to think that in the future Archbishop Lefebvre will be seen as a new St. Athanasius whereas John Paul “the Great” will be seen as an embarrassment.

  • I think the issues of religious liberty, ecumenism/dialogue and collegiality loomed just as large

    The SSPX was originally founded because Archbishop Lefebvre wanted to ensure that priests could still receive a traditional formation. The ink was barely dry on the 1969 missal when seminary formation had gone off the rails in many places. A group of seminarians approached Lefebvre and asked if he would be willing to teach them traditional theology, and they were off. The SSPX wasn’t excommunicated until the illicit ordination of four bishops in 1988. And the reason why those ordinations went forward was because the first Asissi interreligious confab was the straw that broke Lefebvre’s back.

  • Zippy says:

    Ita Scriptura Est:
    The timing is interesting to me though. IIRC, Lefevbre himself actually signed Dignitatus Humanae. He disputed that later, but ink doesn’t lie so unless there is some albino monk conspiracy going on his views seem to have evolved – as do all of our views. He founded the SSPX after the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae.

    That about exhausts my knowledge of SSPX history, other than the consecrations and excommunication during JPII’s reign.

    But anyway, frequently we start out disagreeing on one thing and “discover” over time that we disagree on a bunch of other things.

  • Zippy says:

    Cross-posted with Beefy, who knows more of the deets than I do.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Too much time in the wilderness had taken its toll, and now the SSPX had become just a different kind of Protestant.

    No. They may be at most canonically irregular but they are not in any way protestant. Also it seems being “in full communion” doesn’t really mean a whole lot- the faculty of Georgetown or LCRW enjoy “full communion” after all.

  • Zippy says:

    The SSPX is as “protestant” as the Eastern Orthodox.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    The SSPX is as “protestant” as the Eastern Orthodox.

    Haha! The chauvinism of the RCC at its finest. Seriously; I find it compelling and admirable.

  • Zippy says:

    Hah! I’ve never been very good at pretending to ignore elephants.

  • Michael says:

    If at 1437 pages Denziger isn’t the fattest book on your shelf, I shudder to think which tome fits that description 🙂

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    The SSPX is as “protestant” as the Eastern Orthodox.

    Not really. SSPX do not deny the principal the Papacy in principal like the East. Nor have the SSPX committed serious moral innovations like on divorce and contraception like the East has.

  • buckyinky says:

    As a peon Catholic layman exerting energy to stay on the rails, the difficulty in knowing how to view the office of Pope, such difficulty being only background noise during the pontificates of Bl. JPII and BXVI, is exacerbated with the current pontificate. I fully recognize the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the man in the office, no problem there, but as a matter of his personality, I would otherwise much rather simply live the Catholic faith as though he didn’t have much bearing on it. What I mean is that his spirituality and choice of emphases in matters of the Catholic faith do not resonate with me and simply won’t resonate with me (barring the very possible happening of a change in myself). So am I failing in matters of piety toward his legitimate authority if I don’t pay much attention to what he says from day to day – his interviews or even his homilies, or what my weekly diocesan publication chooses to publish of his words for helpful exhortation* – but instead prefer a Kempis, Chautard or the Saints of old?

    I sometimes try to imagine myself as a medieval German peasant in relation to the Pope, and with Pope Francis it has become easier to play this role. The peasant (so I imagine) lived his life with all the Catholic piety he could muster, but it couldn’t have much to do with the daily actions of the Pope because it wasn’t possible for him to know these things. The difference however, is that my disposition might be a foolish one because the fact of the matter is that I don’t live in medieval times, and I have ready access to many of the Pope’s words and actions on a daily basis at a few button clicks. Is it imprudent or impious of me not to pay any attention to the Pope when it is so easy to pay a lot of attention?

    * yesterday’s issue quoted (translated I presume – Catholic News Service) as saying:

    I suffer – I speak truly – when I see in the church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service – which we all have and should have – that woman’s role of service slips into a role of servitude…when I see women who do things out of servitude, and that it is not well understood what a woman ought to do,” but there is “[an]other danger in the opposite direction: that of promoting a type of emancipation which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterize it.

    See, for example, if I try to ponder any more expressions of “authentic womanhood” in the Church in modern terms, I think I shall go batty.

  • @buckyinky:

    Piety asks us to give submission of intellect and will when the pope is officially teaching us in, say, an encyclical letter. Charity asks us to pray for the pope daily. Prudence asks us to at least consider and maybe to learn something when the pope is speaking off the cuff, but that doesn’t mean his every word is edifying.

    Heck, I seldom paid attention to the daily utterances of JPII or BXVI, two popes whom I liked personally and who were more congenial to my intransigent reactionary nature :p

  • Zippy says:

    I think it is a basic ecclesiological mistake for people to pay close attention to all the things a Pope says in all different venues, just because it happens to be constantly reported in our modern 24/7 mass media. Heck, it is probably not fair to the Pope himself. He is only human.

    So I’d second Beefy Levinson’s comment and probably take it a step further: I think it is probably imprudent for most people to make the ultramontane mistake of hanging on to the Pope’s every word.

  • Escalona says:

    Zippy: The word “schism” was used back in the 80s, but afterwards Pope Benedict stopped calling the SSPX schismatic and I believe has even stated positively that he does not think they are in a state of schism. This would differentiate them from the separated Eastern churches.

  • Zippy says:

    Escalona (and others):

    Fair enough.

  • Escalona says:

    Oh and, as usual, I think you’re right on

  • Blogmaster says:


    “Please accept that I reject the term ‘ecumenism ad intra.’ The bishops, priests and faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebrve who has undertaken an illicit Episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated. They are not heretics.” – Cardinal Castrillion Hoyos, Feb 8, 2007

  • Blogmaster says:

    Should be “Castrillon”, not “Castrillion”.

    Also, see this recent clarification from the Diocese of Richmond, VA:


    ” • It is not clear that the society is in schism, and it is not properly called a “sect.” In recent years the Holy See has recognized the society’s expressed desire for regular communion with the Roman Pontiff and the Church he shepherds, and the Holy See’s dialogue with the society since 2009 demonstrates the Church’s commitment to unity.

    • It is necessary to distinguish between the priests, brothers, and sisters of the society, on the one hand; and the lay faithful who attend Mass at society chapels, on the other hand. The former are clearly in an irregular status. In regard to the lay faithful who attend Mass at society chapels, there has never been a statement by the Holy See that these people are in schism. In fact, the Holy See acts toward them as it does toward all the Catholic lay faithful.”

  • Blogmaster says:

    Zippy, it’s not just that we have a different kind of pope. We have a pope who – to stretch the limits of charity – is theologically confused at best. Worse still, he seems eager to spread the confusion far and wide. The natural consequences are all predictably horrible. May God in His mercy bring some good from it!

  • Dystopia Max says:

    Judging by Pope Francis’ recent verbal steps far outside of the territory of both conservatism and Catholicism, the judgments of the SSPX were sound and serious, and showed greater human judgment and capacity to predict the future than the official Church. Sorry, Zippy, but the O.P.’s might have actually had a few good points, even before state and tribal business swallowed all intellectual debates.

    Though to be fair, a strong public official statement on race and its consequences is something that neither Catholic nor Protestant seems willing to touch, and may have to wait for sterner times (though likely not much longer.)

  • Zippy says:

    Dystopia Max:
    My speculation in the OP is that the SSPX were offered as good as they were going to get, that that was pretty doggone good and indeed if they’d been offered it in 1969 there wouldn’t be an SSPX at all, and that because they refused it now they are going to get worse.

    Whether that reflects good judgment or not is left as an exercise to the reader. (For that matter, whether or not it reflects reality is left as an exercise: the OP is just musing, if not particularly amusing).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Popes are human too at Zippy Catholic.