Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Wisdom of Resignation

"The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; and sinful." Claretian Father Paulson V. Veliyannoor, CMF, PhD, in Bible Diary 2013, reflection  for February 26, 2013

I have not been a great admirer of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI. Throughout my adult life, he has represented many negative aspects of Catholic theology and practice. My image of the man shifted a few years ago, when I came across a passionate defense of individual conscience written by Joseph Ratzinger in 1967, after the close of the Second Vatican Council. In it he said:

“Over the Pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism.”

To my knowledge, Ratzinger/Pope Benedict never altered or renounced that definitive statement. I and countless other conscientious Catholics have 
quoted him repeatedly and held him to ownership of that theological position.

Why Benedict has decided to do on February 28, 2013, what no pope for seven centuries has done, is open to speculation (and runaway imagination). Whether it be for health and stamina reasons, as he publicly claims, or because an intransigent Vatican bureaucracy led him to throw in the towel (or both), I do admire this pope for handing over the office to a new and (somewhat) younger leader. That's not easy for power-for-lifers to do.

We Catholics who must watch from the sidelines are witnessing the beginning of the end of an  irrelevant structure of church leadership and governance. That system has allowed an all-male, celibate, and elite class of senior citizens to lay spiritual and moral burdens on their fellow religionists that they themselves have never borne. Rather than lament the passing of this archaic and,  in many ways, unjust system, Catholics who hold fast to the core beliefs of our faith find in this evolution the movement of the Holy Spirit. The truth of the Good News of Christ resides in the entire people of God. It is in that Body of Christ on earth that we find hope in the present turmoil surrounding the election of Benedict XVI's successor.

The Holy Spirit has forever been the people of God's "ace in the hole" and source of sure hope; "she" is the antithesis of the Vatican power structure that repeatedly mars the Roman Catholic "brand." 

I hope for, but do not expect, a saintly revolutionary leader in the mold of John XXIII to arise from this conclave. What I pray for is a leader who will begin the process of inner conversion in Rome, one who will take seriously his title as "servant of the servants of God." 

Our Catholic Church, like all other Christian churches and all other-than-Christian faith traditions is burdened with the millstone of fallible human nature. We Catholics will never get this "church thing" completely right. What we pray for is that we just won't keep getting it so terribly wrong. Yes, we're going to mess up the mission of Christ; but let's do it less and less, and in a spirit of humility and ongoing repentance.

Come, O Holy Spirit! 

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of 
|The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto