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A New Pope of Rome

The last few days have witnessed great divisions inside the Roman Catholic world. The image presented, true or not, has been that of a community divided.

On the one hand, there have been those ardent supporters of the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who have wanted the continuation of conservatism, of the institutional Catholicism of the Vatican, as it has developed in recent times. On the other hand, there have been those who have wanted change, urging Catholicism to melt into the liberal secularism ('progress') of the contemporary Western world. As one liberal humanist Dominican priest put it: 'The Church must listen to the people'.

It is natural that in Roman Catholicism, as in any other organization where human-beings play a role, there should be different trends, different viewpoints. However, what is disturbing is that there appear to be only two viewpoints; one conservative, heeding the voice of Vatican institutionalism, the other liberal, heeding the voice of the world. Both viewpoints are essentially worldly viewpoints.

If the Church is the Body of Christ, then it should heed neither bureaucratic institutions (however many generations old they may be), nor the voice of the world. It should rather heed the voice of the Holy Spirit. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit, always the same and yet always new, signifies the presence of the Church.

If it is the Cardinals, whose average age is 71, who have chosen a new Pope, then there is little hope. But if the Holy Spirit were to choose him, in spite, and not because, of the Cardinals, then we could expect a new age in Roman Catholicism, an age of return to Church Tradition, to Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity and Apostolicity, the four signs of the Church. The fact is that the present impasse in Roman Catholicism will be overcome only when there is a new Radicalism, one which takes it back to Tradition. This may be a form of suicide, but in the case of contemporary Roman Catholicism, so deeply divided, this is the only real possibility of renewal. 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit' (Jn. 12,24).

For Orthodox, the fact that the new Pope, the Bavarian Cardinal Ratzinger, has taken the name of Benedict has both positive and negative aspects. It is positive because St Benedict was one of the great early Orthodox monastic fathers of Western Europe, who brought Orthodoxy from the East to the West. However, Orthodox cannot forget that the last Pope Benedict, Benedict XV (1914-1922), one who tried to reconcile Catholic modernists and Catholic traditionalists, hated Orthodox Russia. He not only rejoiced at her fall, but immediately, in 1917, set up institutions to preach Catholicism there, and in 1920 saw the Turkish government, that had committed genocide against Armenian and Greek Christians alike, erect a statue in gratitude to him.

The fact that this election has come on the feast-day of St Methodius, the ninth-century Apostle of the Slavs and Archbishop of Moravia, is not a good sign either. In his life, St Methodius was tortured and tormented by Bavarian clergy, especially the Archbishop of Salzburg, for not confessing the heretical filioque. He suffered much at the hands of German bishops and was forbidden by the then Pope John VIII to celebrate in the language of his people. Orthodox cannot forget that it was the German popes of the eleventh century who first cut off Western Europe from Jerusalem and Orthodoxy.

However, we should not let such signs prejudice us. That would be a mistake. We will continue to pray that Roman Catholicism will yet return to the ways of the Church. For, as it is written, man proposes, but God disposes.

Fr Andrew

6/19 April 2005

St Methodius, Equal to the Apostles,
Teacher of the Slavs

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