Tag Archives: The Papacy

Another Italian Pope?

The election yesterday of a new Pope of Rome has called forth various reactions, those of the cynical and those of the optimists. What are those reactions?

Cynics say that the whole event is a PR stunt. The embattled cardinals have chosen a weak front man, who has taken the sentimental name of Francis as Pope. The image he will project is of a humble and poor monk. In reality, so they say, this represents no change; whatever his real personality, the same people will run the show from behind the scenes.

They point to the fact that, at the age of 76, Francis I appears to be another stop-gap Pope. Although not officially Italian, he was born of Italian parents in Argentina, the most Italian part of South America, where even the Spanish is Italian. They see in him just another Italian or, at least, semi-Italian, bureaucrat.

Finally, the cynics see in this Jesuit (a word that is a synonym for scheming and cunning, one for whom ‘the ends justifies the means’) a man who compromised himself with the tyrannical Argentinian junta of some 35 years ago. Orthodox will note that Francis I was in charge of ‘Eastern Catholics’ in Argentina and recall the cruelty of the Jesuits who operated Uniatism in Eastern Europe.

Optimists will be appalled at such cynicism. Giving him the benefit of any doubt there may be, they see in the new Pope a sincere, pious, humble man of orthodox faith, who knows how to communicate with simple people. For them, he is a pastor who shares and understands the life of the people, like the average Orthodox priest, traditional in teaching but liberal in social matters and justice.

They see in him not a theoretical academic, but a realist. His age, they might say, proves it. Here is a man of experience, the very experience that is necessary to reform and cleanse the Vatican from its infernal, self-justifying and corrupt bureaucracy. Surely he is intelligent and practical enough to know how to delegate and manage people.

In the new Pope they see the opportunity for Roman Catholicism to return to the essentials. Perhaps he will turn the Vatican, with its indecent frescoes, into a giant Renaissance museum. Tourists could be charged to enter and the money collected given to the Catholic poor of the Third World. Meanwhile, the Church could transfer its centre to one of the early churches of the Rome of the first millennium.

With time we will see who is right, the pessimists or the optimists. For our part, we are reminded of the words of the first English Orthodox priest of the last century, Fr Nicholas Gibbes, who in 1934 described embracing Orthodoxy as ‘like getting home after a long journey’. The Roman Catholic world has been on a very, very, very long journey. It is our hope, however small, that the new Pope might understand this.

The Next Pope: An Orthodox Perspective

Presumably, the next Pope will be elected from among the 115 cardinals now in conclave in Rome. Of course, it is also possible that they could break with some 750 years of custom and elect one who is outside their college. That would be acceptable, although highly surprising. As regards who will be elected, nobody knows and it is a waste of time speculating. Obviously, Orthodox will not be consulted about the election, but we might think what general type of man we would like to be elected.

Firstly, we would like to see a man of faith, and not some swim-with-the-secular-tide conformist. This might suggest an African, or at least someone who is not from Europe. Normally, a man of faith would automatically have some sort of charisma, or presence, which he could express and communicate – that is essential. Thus, the future Pope should not look like an elderly and dreary Vatican bureaucrat, as so many cardinals appear to.

Secondly, it is clear that Roman Catholicism needs to be managed, which rather excludes the ivory tower intellectual, academic, teacher type, represented by the last Pope. However, a manager does not at all mean that the next Pope should be an accountant/administrator with an MBA. That would be a disaster. What is needed is someone who knows how to delegate the necessary management to the right people, so that he is left to perform his main task – praying.

Thirdly, Roman Catholicism surely needs someone who can distinguish between the ‘primaries’ of the Faith and the ‘secondaries’. The primaries are the Church Tradition, teachings established in the First Millennium, the secondaries are those inessential customs that replaced primaries, or else were added on to it, in the Second Millennium. The primaries include all the dogmas and teachings of the fourth century Creed, purified from the filioque deformation first confessed in Rome in 1014, nearly 1,000 years ago. They also include a sacramental attitude to the world, a male priesthood and the Biblical, Apostolic and Patristic attitude to homosexuality.

The secondaries include the introduction of such temporary and pernicious customs as priestly celibacy, which has helped to lead to sexual perversion, or the dogmatic attitude to contraception that makes almost all married Catholics into hypocrites. This also means putting back what has been taken away in the Second Millennium, restoring the original understanding of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of God, the Saints, holiness, the Church as the image of the Holy Trinity, unity in diversity, the role of the Local Church and the episcopate, the sense of the mystical and the sacred.

The above three qualities, a prayerful faith communicated through charisma, the ability to delegate management to the right people, and the ability to return to the essentials of the Christian Faith, rid of the deformations of the Second Millennium, may not be found in any of the 115 cardinals. In that case, it would be time to look outside their college. The right choice is vital – because Roman Catholicism now faces a test of survival. Either it can go the whole way and become fully secularised like most of the Protestant world, as it threatens to do, or else it can return through repentance to the Church and Orthodoxy, which it so short-sightedly abandoned a whole millennium ago. It is make or break time. May God’s will be done.