Roberto de Mattei
The eyes of the entire world, not only Catholics, are riveted at this time on St. Peter’s, waiting to see who will be the new Vicar of Christ. The anticipation which is manifested on the eve of every Conclave is, on this occasion, sadder and more intense because of the sequence of events which have occurred leaving people dismayed and confused.
Massimo Franco writes in the “Corriere della Sera” of February 27, 2013, that, “inside Vatican City a model of government and a conception of the Papacy is coming to an end” and he compares the difficulties that the Church is going through today to the final phase of the crisis in the Soviet Kremlin. “The decline of the Vatican Empire – he writes – accompanies that of the USA and the European Union [both] in economic and demographic crisis. It shows a model of Papacy and of centralized ecclesiastical government, challenged by a fragmented and decentralized reality.” The crisis of the Vatican Empire is presented as a crisis of a model of Papacy and of ecclesiastical government which is inadequate for the world in the 21st century. The only way out would be that of a process of “auto-reform” which would save the institution, thus perverting the nature of its essence.
In reality, that which is in crisis is not the “monocratic” government, which conforms to the Tradition of the Church, but the system of government born of the post-conciliar reforms, which in the last fifty years have expropriated the Papacy of its sovereign authority, redistributing the power among the Episcopal Conferences and an omnipotent Secretariat of State.
But, most of all, Benedict XVI and his predecessor, even if very different in temperament, were victims of the myth of the collegiality of government which they both sincerely believed in, and so renounced taking on many responsibilities which could have resolved the problem of the apparent ungovernability of the Church. The perennial interest in the Papacy is in the charisma of the Office: the supremacy of government over the universal Church, of which the infallible Magisterium is a decisive expression.
Some say that Benedict XVI did not exercise his power in governing with authority because he is a meek, gentle man, who has neither the character nor the physical strength to face this situation of grave ungovernability. The Holy Ghost infallibly illuminated him, suggesting the supreme sacrifice in the renunciation of His Pontificate in order to save the Church. But we do not take into account of just how much this talk humanizes and secularizes the figure of the Supreme Pontiff. The government of the Church does not rest on the character of a man, but of his corresponding to the Divine assistance from the Holy Ghost.
The Papacy has been occupied by men of a war-like and imperious character, such as Julius II, and also men of meek and amiable temperaments such as Pius IX. But it was Pius IX and not Julius II, who corresponded more perfectly to Grace, ascending to the highest levels of holiness, precisely in the heroic exercise of Papal governing. The idea that a weak and tired Pope should resign is not supernatural, but naturalistic, since it denies the Pontiff the decisive help of that Holy Ghost Who is inappropriately invoked. At this point naturalism turns into its opposite: into a fideism of a pietist mould, where the outpouring of the Holy Ghost absorbs human nature and becomes the regenerating factor in the life of the Church. And here we have old heresies which are surfacing today right in the most conservative environments.
The error, which is more and more widespread, is that of wanting to justify any decision made by a Pope, a Council, an Episcopal Conference in the name of that principle by which “the Holy Ghost always assists the Church.” The Church is certainly indefectible, due to the assistance of the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of Truth” (John, 14, 7). She has from Her Founder the guarantee of persevering until the end of time, in the profession of the Faith, the Sacraments and the apostolic succession of government. However, indefectibility does not signify infallibility extended to all of the acts of the Magisterium and government, nor even to the impeccability of the highest ecclesiastical authorities.
In the history of the Church, explains Pope Pius XII: “there have been alternating victories and defeats, ascents and descents, heroic confession with the sacrifice of material goods and life, but also in some of her members, falls, betrayal and division. The evidence of history is unequivocally clear: portae inferi non praevalebunt (Mt. 16, 18); but other evidence is not lacking – even the gates of hell have had their partial successes.” (Address - Di gran cuore - of September 14, 1956). Despite the partial and apparent successes of hell, the Church is not shaken by persecutions, nor by the heresies and sins of Her members, rather She draws new vigor and new vitality from the grave crises that hit Her.
But if the errors, the falls, the defections must not discourage us, these, when they happen, must not be denied. For example, was it the Holy Ghost Who inspired Clement V’s choice to move the See of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon? Catholic historians today agree in defining that decision as gravely wrong since it weakened the Papacy in the 14th century, opening the door to the Great Western Schism.
Was it the Holy Ghost Who prompted the election of Alexander VI, a Pope who conducted a profoundly immoral life before and after his election? No theologian, nor any Catholic for that matter, would be able to sustain that the 23 cardinals who elected the Borgia Pope were illuminated by the Holy Ghost. And if it did not happen in that election, you can envision that it did not happen in other elections and conclaves, which saw the election of weak Popes, unworthy and inadequate to their lofty mission, all this without prejudicing in any way the greatness of the Papacy.
The Church is great precisely because She endures the smallness of men. So, an immoral and inadequate Pope can be elected. It can happen that the Cardinals in Conclave refuse the influence of the Holy Ghost and that the Holy Ghost Who assists the Pope in the accomplishment of his mission, be refused. This does not mean that the Holy Ghost is defeated by men and the demon. God, and only God, is capable of drawing good from evil and thus Providence guides every event in history. Cardinal Journet explains in his treatise on the Church, that in the case of a conclave, the assistance of the Holy Ghost signifies that even if the election is the result of a bad choice, we have the certitude that the Holy Ghost, Who assists the Church in bringing out good even from evil, permits whatever happens for higher and mysterious ends. Although God draws good from the evil done by men, as happened with the first sin of Adam, which was the cause of the Incarnation of the Word, it does not mean that men can commit evil without liability. And every liability will be accountable for – in heaven or on earth.
Each man, each nation, each ecclesiastical assembly, must correspond to Grace, which in order to be efficacious, needs human cooperation. Confronted with this auto-demolition of the Church, which Paul VI spoke of, we cannot remain with our arms folded in a state of pseudo-mystical optimism. We need to pray and act, each one according to their possibilities, so that this crisis is brought to an end and the Church may show visibly that holiness and beauty which She has never lost, and will never lose until the end of time.
[Source : Corrispondenza Romana, n. 1283, March 5, 2013. Tip and translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]