Saturday, June 4, 2016


‘Communal papacy’ may be a baby-step toward democracy

Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI before opening the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 8. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout via EPA)
Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI before opening the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 8. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano.)

 When Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, many wondered what role a retired pope might have in the Church. After the election of Pope Francis, many continued to wonder whether the presence of a retired pope would be a threat in any way to the authority of the new one.

Given those concerns, the low-profile role chosen by the pope emeritus has been quite reassuring. Similarly, Francis’ acceptance of his predecessor’s draft of his own first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, in June 2013, was more than a gracious gesture of civility.

Despite initial apprehensions, these developments can be seen as the first steps toward a Spirit-led unfolding of a new-style papacy for the Third Millennium.

Historically, such unfolding of the nature and exercise of the papacy has not been unusual in Church life. It was evident, though in convoluted ways, in resolving the knotty wrangle of three claimants to the papal tiara 600 years ago: Gregory XII, Benedict XIII and self-claiming John XXIII. 2017 will mark the 6th centenary of the election of Pope Martin V to replace these three claimants.

That centennial may help us further reflect on the presence of two popes today, though in far more salutary circumstances.

The Spirit manifests itself in surprise ways, and the current role of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who doubles both as prefect of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Household and as the personal secretary of emeritus Pope Benedict, may be one such manifestation. (Is this an infallible, gnostic decree by the author of this commentary, which is a sneaky, progressive way to manipulate people?)

In a rather revealing speech at a May 20 book launch in Rome, Gänswein reflected on what he saw as a new development of the Petrine ministry. Reportedly, he commented there on Pope Benedict’s resignation and his relations with Pope Francis.

“Before and after his resignation, Pope Benedict has viewed his task as participation in the papal ministry,” Gänswein said. News media quoted him as saying that although Benedict had left the papal throne, he had not abandoned the ministry. (This, in my most humble opinion, is a bit of a bombshell and sounds more like a threat that could have anti-pope ramifications for the good of the Church?)

Instead, he has “built a personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, almost a communal ministry,” said the emeritus pope’s secretary.

Gänswein said that since Francis’ election, there are “not two popes but de facto an expanded ministry, with an active member and a contemplative member.” (I am left scratching my head on this one, but all deceased popes who are in heaven are still popes and as a part of the communion of saints are a part of the papacy, no?)

If, as yet, there has been no comment from the usually outspoken Pope Francis or his colleagues, they must be in deep contemplation of the implications of the thoughts articulated by Pope Benedict’s longtime close collaborator. (Dumb struck contemplating the ramification of an only partial resignation????)

For sure, Gänswein’s analysis of an expanded papacy must be food for thought for Francis, (ya think?) who has repeatedly shown himself open to rethinking various aspects of the office. Was this pope of surprises, elected in 2013 after being reportedly bypassed in 2005, perhaps mulling such matters during his May 29 address to deacons from around the globe?

Those who serve must be prepared for God’s surprises, he told them. (a challenge to the papacy of one pope by a still living pope who declares he is not fully resigned is a surprise I would say!)

After all, it was not too long ago that Pope Francis was heard thinking aloud about his own papacy as a limited-term affair. Hence, some of today’s Catholics may live to see three popes at once, though far different from the embarrassing scenario 600 years ago of three contending claimants!

Whether there be two, three or four popes, the Church’s concern would be more about papal roles in the Ganswein-articulated concept of an expanded ministry.

For instance, even now, there’s obviously some reciprocity between the reflective theologizing ministry of Benedict, the emeritus pope, and the actively pastoral ministry of Francis, the reigning pope. The dynamics of such a partnership may provide for further expansion of a communal papal ministry.

If so, is it possible that the multiple-pope scenario could actually open the doors of the Church to other, deeper ways of democratizing decision-making and leadership?

 For instance, could such an expanded collegial dimension of the papacy, combining Petrine and Pauline ministries, gradually grow toward sharing authority and service with other layers of the Church, including the laity? (and now the stealthy progressive canard, let's clericalize the laity but make sure they don't wear cassocks. Liberals think the clergy come from Mars rather than from the laity. Who are they kidding--not me of course! I won't fall for it!)

Could the already emerging synodal dimension of the papacy open new leadership roles of effective authority to bishops’ synods and conferences on a more permanent basis?

Could such inclusive moves help deconstruct other structures, and foster growth as a more open, inclusive, and ecumenical Church?

Such growth may help the papacy return to Spirit-led democratic procedures evidenced in the election of Mathias as the Twelfth Apostle – the first bishop-elect of the newborn Church. (Or it might overturn one papacy in favor of a still reigning previous pope which seems to me to be the foundation of Archbishop Gänswein’s threat, I mean, thesis.)


Anonymous said...

Fr McDonald, I absolutely endorse your comments in red. A shot over the bows by the Conservatives perhaps ... and Pope Benedict is said to be making a public appearance on 26 June - anniversary of his ordination - which AB Gaenswein said: “Benedict XVI will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the pontificate June 29, and we will see what we will be able to manage…this may present an opportunity to show that Benedict XVI is well.”

Anonymous said...

Ok, the writer of that article is insane. No pope, not even Francis can change the papacy to include 2 people or three, just like he can't say there are 2 persons in one God or 4 persons in one God. The pope can't change truth.

More likely what the good archbishop was doing was letting Francis know in no u certain terms that if he goes to far, maybe, just maybe the pope emeritus face the wolves eye to eye for the good of the Church and utter 5 little words.....I felt forced to resign. 5 little words from Benedict t XVI would send Cardinal Bergoglio back to South America on the next jet. That's all it would take. 5 little words.

Tony V said...

It's been years since we've had a good old antipope and it's high time we had one again.
Question: if someone declares himself pope that makes him an antipope, right? So if someone declares himself antipope, does that make him pope?

Anonymous said...

Tony V, I think it is more likely to be, as Anonymous says, that Benedict could declare that he resigned under duress and then Francis' election would be declared invalid and would be asked to step aside. I imagine he would be quite agreeable as he seems an agreeable sort of person but if he refused that and continued on then, yes, you're right, he would become the anti-pope ...

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like a lot of people are sensationalizing this just to generate conflict.

Vox Cantoris said...

The article is disgrace and an attempt to manipulate; it's a good thing Crux is near readership death.

Look, Benedict XVI had an option; he could have said:

I am not leaving the Vatican.

I will appear every Sunday at the Angelus to speak and bless.

I am appointing my Papal Legate. He will do all public duties and when he speaks it is considered to be me.

I will pray, write and give orders.

If anyone gets out of hand, the Swiss Guards will handle them.

There, that is what he could have done.

But, yes; it is a shot across the bow to Francis, Bishop of Rome, "five little words."

Now, here is the question:

If Papa Ratzinger really thinks this but has not articulated it, what does that mean?

Do we really want to go there?

Is is that hard to comprehend that we have a really bad Pope?

Dialogue said...

Vox Cantoris,