Published on November 3, 2015.
I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.
In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.
Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) Continue reading
Like many others, I was stunned by Benedict XVI’s resignation. I spent the next several days after the announcement in a frenzy of research and reading, trying to make sense of it all. This column, published on February 19, 2013, was an attempt to pull all that reading together.
Even the most generous-spirited praise for Pope Benedict XVI cannot avoid making comparisons. Here, for example, is theology professor Vincent Miller, in a deeply sympathetic essay published in the Jesuit magazine America. “From the beginning of his papacy, in the shadow of John Paul—then called ‘the Great’—Benedict has struck a lower profile. Of course he lacked his predecessor’s charisma, but his gestures were so often intentional.”
Even an editorial critical of the charismatic John Paul II, in the weekly Tablet, slides easily into comparative-speak: “Pope Benedict’s legacy is largely spiritual and intellectual rather than public and spectacular, like that of his predecessor.” (The Tablet’s leanings can be guessed from the nickname, a play on another meaning of “tablet,” that its critics have bestowed on it: The Pill or, for emphasis, The Bitter Pill.)
The first thing that struck me, when I read the English text of Pope Benedict XVI’s “Declaratio” on the Vatican Radio website, was this passage:
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
I thought the Pope was referencing his predecessor’s last years in office, when Pope John Paul II’s Petrine ministry was precisely service “with prayer and suffering.” Referencing, and then finally rejecting, that sainted example, because of the present-day conditions in which the Roman Catholic Church found itself: “so many rapid changes,” “shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”
I understood these phrases to mean a recognition of the stasis that had characterized Vatican decision-making in the first years of the 21st century, when Pope John Paul II’s ministry of suffering had offered believers everywhere a source of inspiration, but also a cautionary tale of governance.
PS. Amy Davidson of The New Yorker was thinking along the same lines.
Still stunned, some six hours after I first saw the news flash on TV. Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign by the end of the month is unprecedented in the modern age; the last time a pope resigned, Christopher Columbus had not even been born yet. That is to say, when Gregory XII resigned in 1415, to settle the so-called Western Schism, the “New World” wasn’t even a concept. Pope Benedict’s bold, striking decision brings us—suddenly, dizzyingly—to uncharted waters.
Published on March 17, 2009
Last January, the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops remitted (that is to say, lifted) the excommunication placed two decades ago on four bishops of the Lefebvrite Society of St. Pius X. The official decree expressed an ardent hope. “This gift of peace, coming at the end of the Christmas celebrations, is also meant to be a sign which promotes the Universal Church’s unity in charity, and removes the scandal of division.”
Instead, it turned into a greater scandal, when word spread that one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, was an active denier of the Holocaust. In an incendiary interview on Swedish television, mere days before the decree was published, Williamson claimed Nazi gas chambers did not exist and that perhaps only 300,000 Jews (instead of the accepted estimate of six million) were killed by Hitler’s regime.
Immediately, Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to repair relations with the ultraconservative Society (which considers the Second Vatican Council heretical) became the long-anticipated signal that the Pope, once feared as the Panzer cardinal, was astride his tank and finally making a hard turn to the right. His decision was attacked, not least by his fellow German, Chancellor Angela Merkel, for diminishing the horror of the Holocaust, and by many others, Jews as well as Catholics, for encouraging illiberalism and intolerance. (I, too, was one of many dismayed by the Pope’s action.)