High Anxiety

The few traditionalist Catholics within my social circle breathed a sigh of relief when Benedict XVI succeeded John Paul II. Now Pope Benedict is resigning. The anxiety resumes.

This is “breaking news.” I’ll be watching the commentariat – especially those who don’t reflexively reduce traditional Catholicism to atavistic politics – closely in coming days. For now, what I’m wondering is:

  1. When a Pope resigns instead of dying in the saddle (if that’s not too impious an expression), does he deliberate on his successor as a Cardinal? If so, is his opinion especially weighty?
  2. Who are the “stars” in the Church today, both traditionalist and less traditionalist?
  3. As Europe continues to secularize, are there any European Cardinals whose jurisdiction has bucked the trend?
  4. Is an American Pope unthinkable at the present historic moment? (I rather hope so.)
  5. As the center of Christian gravity moves southward, is it time for an African Pope? Are there any African Cardinals who are not just rock-ribbed orthodox, but who have the requisite erudition and experience to be plausible?

Stay tuned. I may not comment further (though that seems unlikely), but for most Christians in the West, even those of us who are Orthodox and in whose diptychs the Patriarch of Rome is not inscribed, the proclivities of the Pope are a big deal.


  1. Gosh! I guess I was all wrong. I thought he was pretty great, but NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli summarizes his papacy as one self-inflicted wound after another, starting with offending Muslims but at least including making nice with Jews (so important since we all know that all Germans his age are tainted).
  2. From the pro-life reverse mirror image of lefties who think the Catholic Church is all about politics, LifeNews.com breathlessly reports that Pope Benedict has been pro-life.
  3. Southern Baptist Russell Moore, a rather ecumenical fellow all things considered, ritually disavows the Catholic Church and ritually disavows the Catholic Church again, but in between says some nice and accurate things about the last two Pontiffs’ records on promoting human dignity.  But why this: “It might surprise previous generations of Protestants that one of the primary emphases of the Vatican in the last generation has been on the dignity and liberty of the human person”? Or is that just a third, subtler disavowal?
  4. The Russian Orthodox megasite Pravoslavie.ru is attuned to the things I’m attuned to: “It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals – the princes of the church who will elect the next pope – to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.” (H/T ByzantineTexas)
  5. I caught wind late afternoon of some incoherent speculation about the prophesy of Malachi and a papal contender named Peter. I wracked my memory banks for any lurid “prophesy” nonsense along those lines and came up dry. Now, through the miracle of Google, I bring you subliterate, incoherent speculation from raptureintheairnow.com, and they’re citing the prophet Malarky (H/T Mrs. Tipsy) or something like that.
  6. The News Hour on PBS thought that balanced coverage should include a Sr. Something-or-Other from “Future Church,” which thinks that one of the Church’s most pressing problems is that it doesn’t have non-celibate and female priests.
  7. Religion Dispatches appears to be starting a snarkathon. Mary E. Hunt quotes Benedict: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Ah! Conscience! “Examination of conscience: that is just the formula millions of us use to explain why we use birth control, enjoy our sexuality in a variety of ways, and see enormous good in other religious traditions. Conscience is the ultimate arbiter ….” (Hunt) Then Elizabeth Drescher reflect on his “painful legacy” for the sorts of people who can’t blithely cite “conscience” to blow off the Pope. but instead take his words seriously enough to take personal offense that he hasn’t yet reduced Catholicism to moralistic therapeutic deism without the moralism.
  8. “Popes don’t resign, God takes them. A resignation seems worldly, like something that happens in the world, where people give you 30 days’ notice and send a blast email saying they’re moving on to newer opportunities … And yet … Benedict is old, 86, and for 24 years, as John Paul’s Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was one of the few to see, up close and every day, the cost of John Paul’s great courage and the price the Vatican as an institution was paying for the otherworldly endurance and grit of John Paul, whose last few years were one long goodbye, and whose ability to administrate was diminished as he became physically disabled … But the papacy is not like the old American vice presidency, the choice doesn’t hinge on geography. Nobody said, “How about a Pole?” before John Paul was chosen, and no one said, “A German is best,” to argue for Cardinal Ratzinger.” (Peggy Noonan) Do read it all. Noonan is a believing Catholic of fairly orthodox stripe, and this lacks the vulgar reductionism to politics that has so characterized mainstream coverage.
  9. Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter, a progressive sort of Catholic, came to love Benedict XVI because of the seamless-webby balance in his teaching. In other words, there’s a lot there that the neocons (who tend to control what gets discussed about the papacy) would rather forget. (H/T Rod Dreher)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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