Are they just trying to make a confusing situation even more confusing???

On 22nd February, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president for the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, announced that Benedict XVI will, after his abdication takes effect, be referred to as the “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”. We wrote about that at the time and all agreed that it was the right title. We remember Pope John Paul II’s quip “There’s no place in the Church for a Pope Emeritus”.

Then this morning, the same dear lady who rang me at 6:30am on February 12 to tell me that the Holy Father resigned, rang again at the same hour to tell me “He will have his last mass on Wednesday and then he won’t wear his red shoes anymore and he will be called Pope Emeritus”.

Dear, oh dear, I thought, when will the secular media get it right? Why this fascination with trivia and failure to understand plain Italian?

Well, imagine my surprise when I finally read the report of Fr Lombardi’s latest press conference in which he announced:

1) Benedict XVI will be “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus”

2) the Pope will no longer wear the red papal shoes

Don’t get sidetracked by the red herring – I mean, shoes. What’s going on with the title business? I would have thought that the Cardinal President of Legislative Texts was a pretty authoritative source for the post-papal title. Did Fr Lombardi get confused, or has there indeed been a rethink of the title since Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s announcement? And who would have the authority to call the shots on this one?

Is it possible that His Holiness himself decided his predecessor was wrong, and that “Pope Emeritus” is a more fitting title than “Bishop-Emeritus of Rome”?

It should be a simple matter, but unfortunately, hearing one thing from the Cardinal and one thing from Fr Lombardi has just left me confused. And at this time in the Church, confusion is one thing that we do not need more of.

As for the Holy Father’s “last mass” today – I think my dear friend was just confused.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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17 Responses to Are they just trying to make a confusing situation even more confusing???

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Well, this confusion may be pertinent to the discussion we have been having further down the page about the nature of the pontifical office. If “pontiff”, “pope” and “bishop of Rome” are all alternative names for the same office or the same ministry, the obviously the titles “pontiff emeritus”, “pope emeritus” and “bishop emeritus of Rome” are pretty well interchangeable, and therefore if one is proper then so are the others.

    And, if we’re being comprehensive about this, it may be worth pointing out that “pope” is not, in fact, an official or canonical title of the pope. He’s “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God”, but not actually pope. In the Code of Canon Law he is consistently called the “Roman Pontiff”, and that’s also how the office is mostly referred to in the decrees of Vatican II. Where particular popes are mentioned, however, they get called, e.g., Pope Celestine.

  2. The SMH made a small slip in that article. He will not continue wearing the shoes he received in Mexico, he will start wearing them. They’re brown, and he has tried them on once.

    (As I remarked in my own blog, I can see why some people are frustrated and embarrassed by such trivialities. But as for me, I like trivia!)

    • Schütz says:

      Welcome to the Commentary table, Fr J. I think this is your first visit? Someone pass Father the port bottle…

    • Tony says:

      Being the curious type, Fr John, when someone provides a link I usually follow it, so I had a look at your blog.

      A post that caught my eye is the ‘review of the review’ of Susan Cain’s book on introverts.

      I first saw her TED performance a couple of years ago and it spoke to me very directly. I then read the book is double-quick time. Again it spoke to me on so many levels, with plenty of ‘ah ha’ moments.

      Anyhow, it’s relevant to this topic if you believe that Benedict is an introvert. For introverts being ‘on display’ is enervating while being in some sort of preferred private space is energising. When I saw the pictures of Benedict in the last few days and weeks I thought there was a man who’s is exhausted by his years of being ‘out there’.

      I wonder if in earlier roles he was able to get the balance right and have enough down time to do the public stuff. Even then, he tried to retire years ago.

      For some commentators Ratzinger manipulated the last conclave so there was no choice but to choose him. Others, more kindly suggest that wasn’t necessary and he was the clear choice with a minimum of his own strategic maneuverings.

      Either way, it would appear that he’s been out of his comfort zone and, along with his age, has had enough.

      To me, in the world we live in now, a witness to knowing when it is the right time to ‘let go’ is every bit as powerful as ‘holding on for dear life’.

      Benedict has presented future Popes with the kinds of choices we all have to face (some sooner than others!).

      Outside of any talk of ‘crisis’, I think that’s a real game changer on many levels (with accompanying positive and negative potential).

  3. Schütz says:

    Just watching EWTN’s coverage of the final audience. Joan Lewis was discussing the newly announced title, and she said (I quote) “He picked it himself”. Pope trumps Cardinal President.

  4. The Catholic Church is facing its biggest crisis since the Reformation (imho and that of quite a few more informed commentators) and you’re debating what the retired pope should be called? Pardon the sarc., but does the phrase “in denial” mean anything to you, David?

    • Tony says:

      Not sure that it’s the ‘biggest crisis since the Reformation’, Mark, but I do think there is some denial going on.

      If you think that Benedict is doing the right thing (as I do) it is a symbolic gesture of disapproval for his predecessor who literally hung on ‘for dear life’ while, for a significant period, un-elected individuals ran the church (and, ironically, Ratzinger was probably the main guy).

      Alternatively, if you think Benedict is doing the wrong thing by not imitating his predecessor (and those of 6 previous centuries), you’re not alone. I pick up a sense that there are many who are genuinely confused by this retirement and the prospect of a Pope and an ‘Emeritus’. I get this sense from people I’d regard as conservatives. On the extreme end of that spectrum, it represents the clearest evidence yet that the post-VatII popes are fakes.

      In the meantime, adding to a sense of local confusion, we have +Pell making mischief with ‘rather graceless and ill-timed criticisms of Pope Benedict XVI’. My perception of +Pell is that he seems to talk first and think second when put under pressure by the media. In this case he’s under no pressure and has repeated his ‘opinions’. For such a staunch support of Benedict, surely such opinions were best kept ‘in house’?

      If all that wasn’t bad enough, in the background there is ‘Vatileaks’ bolstering the narrative that the Curia is poorly run, cynical, corrupt and run by a bunch of self-seeking, power-hungry, sexually active ‘princes’.

      At some stage even those who seek to ‘think with the mind of the church’ are entitled to wonder what’s actually on the mind of the church at the highest levels.

      • Joshua says:

        I fully agree, Tony!

        • Gareth says:

          In his last Papal address: “But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, IF GOD IS ASKING ME to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far…

          The sudden ‘resigination’ offered near the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The big mystery seems to be turning into a heavenly command?

          Only God knows.

          Only time will tell the truth.

      • Schütz says:

        As he said when he was still pope: “the church is not mine, not ours, but his”. I’m not saying we should “think with my church” or “think with our church”, much less “think with Pope Benedict’s or Cardinal Pell’s church”, but with “His Church”. I intend to “think with” that Church till the day I die.

    • Schütz says:

      As I have said before, Pastor Mark, it looks different from inside. As the old saying goes, “The pope retires, they elect a new one”. I’m not “in denial”. I simply have perfect confidence that – as with the Reformation – we will come out of this stronger, not weaker.

  5. “Not sure that it’s the ‘biggest crisis since the Reformation’, Mark”
    Yes, I know it’s a big call, Tony but the only comparable crisis for the CC I can think of in the last 500 years is the secularisation of France, the “oldest daughter of the church”. The present crisis is bigger, though, because it is worldwide in its manifestation and impact. I’m vitally interested in its resolution primarily for the sake of the victims and the faith of the scandalised but also because all of us engaged in Christian ministry in the West do so in the shadow of Rome, so to speak, whether we like that or not (at the moment not – that’s why I long ago gave up wearing a clerical collar in public; btw, Rome doesn’t “own” the collar, it’s actually a Presbyterian invention!). Thus I’m perplexed at the denial I see here and on other Catholic blogs.

    • Schütz says:

      Well, Pastor Mark, the crisis you describe is not just a crisis for the Catholic Church. If we are talking “denial” here, it denial most obvious in those parts of the Christian community who are making their bed with the present secularism and opponents of faith.

      Yet is is also a “denial” evident among those more conservative (I hate to use that word, but can’t think of an alternative) Christian communities who – seeking to be faithful to their peculiar understanding of “the Gospel” – are developing a “island” mentality, imagining that they can be the Church in the modern world all on their own, apart from that ancient communion which, still today, maintains the greater number of Christians throughout the world in unity with one another.

      Yes, the Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome is “in crisis” – but what time in its history has it not been so? You say we are in denial? No, I say, we know what challenges confront us both inside and out, and are actually addressing these challenges head on. For just one little bit of evidence, look at the most recent topics addressed by the Synod of Bishops: The Eucharist, the Word of God, the Church in Africa, the Church in the Middle East, the New Evangelisation. These emphases are not those of a Church “in denial”, but a truly evangelical and truly Catholic Church reaching out into the world.

      The true definition of “crisis in the Church” is when the Church feels comfortable and secure with her place in the world. For this very reason I would suggest that we are NOT in denial (despite our interest in the unusual situation at present down to the colour of the ex-pope’s shoes).

      Even at the time of the Reformation, there were those within the Roman communion who had what it takes to revitalise the Church and regain much of the lost ground – not weaker, but stronger in faith than before the rise of the Protestant movement. The irony of the Protestant reformation is that the Protestants gave up on a “corrupt Church” at just the time when the Body of Christ was herself was awakening from a period of spiritual slumber, from the head to the toes.

      That awakening is happening again. This IS the “Catholic Moment”. The Church is alive! Assailed from every side, Christus Vincit in Ecclesia!

  6. There you go, David – you don’t mention it.
    The pope’s resignation is not the crisis, my friend – it’s symptomatic of the crisis.
    The crisis is __________ . Fill in the blank, David.
    Out of the mouths of babes – today my wife and eldest son and I drove past St Patrick’s Cathedral here in Toowoomba. I remarked “There is no Pope. Sede vacante -the see is empty.” My son, typical teenager, said, “Oh yeah, why did he resign?” My wife, a former Catholic from abroad whose leaving of the church some 20 years ago was directly related to loss of confidence (the plausibility problem) in the priesthood because of personal experience of the sexual abuse scandals, remarked, “He resigned because he discovered all the evil in the church and it broke his heart.”

    • Schütz says:

      What, you wanted me to say “sex abuse”? Happy now? No. I don’t talk about it very often. Because my reaction to it is just what your wife thinks Benedict’s was: it breaks my heart.

      And yes, I am sure that it did break Benedict’s heart too. I am sure he knew a lot more about the evil in the Church than you, or I, or your wife or anyone could possibly know.

      But to say that this is the reason he resigned? I don’t think so. He has had to deal with that particular evil his whole papacy. I am sure it wore it down, but… some other needle must have broken this particular camel’s back.

      If “the crisis” to which you refer, Pastor Mark, is “evil in the Catholic Church”, well, then that truly is a crisis that has been with us since the beginning. It is the very same crisis that I find every time I look into my own heart and see what is there – more than you, or anyone else other than God, could know.

      But perhaps one of the greatest evils that has come as a result of this particular evil is the fact that it has become the only evil we can see. It is like the person who goes to confession again and again and confesses the same sins each time. This particular sin becomes the only thing he can think about, the only thing he thinks he needs to repent of – and he does not realise the other more subtle evils affecting his life.

      Yes, evil exists in the Church. This is not something to be accepted (“well, it has always been so, so why try to change it?”) but it is certainly not something we should be surprised at. I would have it that the whole world could look at the Church and see nothing but holiness and love – what an evangelising moment THAT would be! Instead the body of Christ is shamed and spat upon because of the betrayal of her members.

      But should anyone stands like the pharisee in the temple and say to himself “God, I thank thee that my church is not like that one over there in the corner etc” – well… Pastor, if you and your wife and family have found a Christian community in which there is no evil, no crisis, I wish you luck.

      I didn’t choose to become a Catholic because Catholics were more holy than other Christians. I wish it were so, but on balance I know that probably they are not. I chose to become a Catholic because I was convinced that the Catholic Church is the visible society upon earth in which the Church of Jesus Christ fully subsists. That is something quite different.

      All that having been said, I do remain convinced that if one is seeking to become holy, then the Catholic Church is the place where the means of attaining holiness are most fully to be found. For all the dreadful, horrific evils committed by members and priests and leaders of the Catholic Church over all the centuries, yet I can name you so many more whose life here on earth, by the grace of Jesus Christ working within them, enabled them to reach that perfection of holiness in this life that there was no sin at all left in them from which they needed no be purified after their death. Does that sound horrific to you? Does that scandalise you? It should not. Because I used the words “by the grace of Jesus Christ”. One thing you must say about us Catholics: we believe in the power of God’s grace – perhaps more than the most ardent protestant – because we believe that God’s Grace in Jesus Christ really CAN change lives and make sinners into saints.

      That is – now and always and world without end – the answer to the crisis of which you speak: the crisis of evil in the Church.

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