Just a few days shy of the coming sede vacante in Rome, I am brought to think of something I wrote back in 2005, when I had not yet joined the TAC and was living in the Vendée part of France. I was writing a blog of sorts called Ramblings of an Unchurched Cleric as part of my website. I still have all the files on my hard disk.
Pope John Paul II died on 2nd April 2005. Like this year, Easter was in late March (27th in 2005) and it was a cold spring. I remember long conversations with a friend in Paris about the stagnation in the final years of the John Paul II pontificate. We looked for change and hope, whether we were “in” or “out”, because it seems clear that the credibility of all Christianity depends on the fortunes of the Roman Catholic Church. If the Vatican goes down, we all go down and the atheists will cry Victory!
2005 was a year when I felt very worn out spiritually. Shortly after the election of Benedict XVI, I took up contact with Fr Graeme Mitchell, a priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion serving in Australia with the intention of making an application to Archbishop Hepworth in view to joining the TAC. The Archbishop has always been known for not responding to mail, so I had this idea asking this kindly priest to do the necessary prodding and motivating. Roman fever was in the air, but far off as yet. The Archbishop interviewed and accepted me in August 2005 as he made a visit to England and made a detour to Paris.
Anyway, in April 2005, both before and after the conclave, I was an outsider with memories of having been a seminarian and a cleric in the RC Church. I was filled with foreboding, and I still have the impression that the Benedict XVI pontificate was like the suspension of a death sentence. Perhaps that is the way of church history, Pope to Pope, day by day, brick by brick. Brick walls can be painstakingly built and demolished in seconds. As then, we are all concerned for what is happening, and that Christianity may not be forever blackened by the example of bad clerics in the most powerful ecclesiastical institution.
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5th April 2005 – Sede Vacante
As the media chafe at the bit in furious speculation as to the future Pope, I allow myself even at this stage to give a few reflections about this time of emptiness, hope and clamouring for knowledge of what is to come.
As I write, thousands of Catholics are paying their respects to the late Pope John Paul II as he lies in state in the Vatican Basilica. With the whole Church, I will observe the novena of Masses and prayers for the repose of his soul. Unlike the presumptuous statements of journalists and misguided bishops, Pope John Paul II is not a canonised saint, and he needs our prayers. If he has millions of faithful praying for him, he needs these prayers, for the prospect of a Pope facing God’s Judgement fills us with great foreboding as we redouble our prayers and supplications.
In our mourning, we cannot but think about the future as we react to the asinine stupidities of press reporters who know so little about the Faith and Catholic customs. The bookmakers begin to take bets, like so many crows waiting for their share of the carrion. For this reason, I permit myself these reflections.
Some are asking for the Church no longer to be the Church. In modern Anglicanism, everything is allowed as the “revisionists” want: moral permissiveness, women “priests”, lay people taking the place of priests, and so forth. The religious practice of Anglicans in England and Episcopalians in America has plummeted even lower than in Catholicism. This is sure proof that the solution to the crisis in the Church is not the curing of a strep throat with an injection of cancer cells.
The notion of a dictator Pope à la Opus Dei is going to alienate the Roman Curia even more from the long-suffering faithful. Why impose family / sexual morality and priestly celibacy when the very purpose of these noble ideals is undermined? Who wants to be a celibate priest (or even a married one), devoting his whole life in a sacrifice for his flock, when the life of parishes is blocked by bureaucracy and petty-minded pseudo-clerical laity wanting the “power”? We are no longer in those far-off days of 1978. Who still talks about P2 and the Vatican Bank, or the tortured agonies of the dying Paul VI bewailing that the smoke of the devil had entered the Church? Twenty-six years have passed, and the concerns are no longer the same, nor are the Cardinals (only a couple remain from the Paul VI era). Over these last years of the John Paul II pontificate, we have felt the stagnation, the waiting, the loss of hope. The page must turn and something must move.
It is no longer about conservatism and liberalism like in the old days, those mythical beasts Scylla and Charybdis on opposite coasts of the sea waiting to swallow straying ships whole. We need to return to transparency, the simplicity of the Gospel, freedom for the practice of our Faith in the celebration of the liturgy, the promotion of an authentic Christian culture, eons away from the 1960’s and 70’s. We need to be able to find beauty in worship far from the Mega-Masses and loud brashness of mass hysteria. The beauty of holiness is an icon of Truth and Love. Cardinal Ratzinger said a few years ago that the only apologia of Christianity is the beauty of worship and the holiness of the Saints.
The pressmen regurgitate the old litany of permissiveness, divorce, contraception, women priests, the old worn-out anti-clericalism, the equally exhausted Marxist class struggle. They come out with the same oppositions between the revisionists and political radicals versus the Curial conservatives. They have forgotten that what is at stake is the Mystical Body of Christ. If they don’t believe in Christ, how can the Church make any sense to them?
I look at the parade of papabili, see their faces and look at their profiles, and my heart is heavy. Going by the old Roman saying, Chi entra in conclave papa ne esce cardinale. I indeed hope that the more papabili they are, the least likely they are to get elected! We can only be grateful that the Conclave will be held in secret behind locked doors, the trash and clamour of the world shut out, away from the influence of the media – and our curiosity.
In the absence of an obvious solution for this eclipse of the Church, we can only pray with increased fervour, knowing that we are probably at the end of the “Constantinian” Church – not the end of the Church (et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam) – but the end of a certain institution.
As on Holy Saturday, the statues are as if veiled, the tabernacle is empty, the altar is bare and gathering cobwebs, the Daughter of Sion stands desolate. We pray, we wait and we hope for the first striking of the New Fire and the singing of the Lumen Christi. We have at this point to ask ourselves: What do we believe in? As our senses fail us, faith alone will bring us through the trials to come.