Direct democracy and Palm Sunday

Sunday, 24 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Listening to the Gospel on Palm Sunday, it struck me that many people criticise Pontius Pilate for his role in the affair while letting the multitude go scot free. Pilate did what little he could to dissuade them from the extremely unpleasant course of action on which they were set, but the multitude kept shouting […]

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To visit the sick

Thursday, 14 March, 2013 0 Comments

Along with feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, ransoming the captive and burying the dead, Francis I believes that visiting the sick is one of his most important duties.

Francis I

When we look at the ideologies that are now in the dustbin of history, we are forced to ask: Why, of all institutions and beliefs, has that of Francis I outlasted them. G. K. Chesterton found the answer in the flawed character of Peter, the predecessor of Francis:

“All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by a strong man upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”

Pope Francis I

Wednesday, 13 March, 2013 1 Comment

The Time of Pope Francis

The BBC wants white smoke — now!

Wednesday, 13 March, 2013 0 Comments

The black smoke was barely visible when the BBC headlined the result thus: “Cardinals deadlocked over next Pope.” The use of “deadlocked” there shows how absurd the media coverage of the conclave has become. How quickly people forget that the conclave of 1740, which ended with the election of Pope Benedict XIV, lasted from February 18 until August 17, a total of 181 days. In case the BBC does not understand what’s going on in Rome, this morning’s black smoke indicates that there have been three ballots so far without anyone getting the required 77 votes.

Along with impatience, the other hallmark of mainstream media coverage of the conclave has been the tireless output of stories about Vatican scandals and political intrigue. This has to be done to fill the industry’s maw, but it distracts from the bigger picture, namely that the Catholic Church is the world’s largest non-governmental organization, and its work in promoting international understanding, working for peace, and caring for the poorest of the poor is vital to global well-being. Sure, it is not always perfect in the pursuit of its aims, but it is fully engaged in parts of the world where states have failed.

The constant coverage of scandal and intrigue in the Vatican has become a staple of journalism today, but the Catholic Church cannot be reduced human weakness and power politics. For believers, the church is a divine as well as a human institution, one that is devoted to bringing peace and justice to the world. That’s why the election of a new Pope matters to non-Catholics as well as to Catholics. Given the importance of their task, the BBC should allow the Cardinals to take their time in making their choice. The confident prediction here is that we will have a new Pope tomorrow.

BBC News

Wanted: Jesus with an MBA

Tuesday, 12 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Its fastest growing markets are in the emerging world. The number of Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 1m in 1910 to 171m today, or from 1% of the total to 16%. The number in the Asia-Pacific region has risen from 14m in 1910 to 131m today, or from 5% of the total to 12%.” Those are the kind of numbers that any manager would like to hear and in “Pope, CEO,” The Economist treats the Catholic Church as an enterprise in need of management advice. Inspired by this market-driven approach to the papacy, the BBC invited Revered Robert Gahl, an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, to write “The pope as CEO.” Snippet:

“Many of the cardinals hope that the next pope will be able to bring managerial efficiencies to the Vatican to empower all of those dedicated clerics and lay people who give their lives while serving behind those ancient walls.

Given the need for reform, no-one should be surprised if the next pope, while drawing from his own managerial talents, were also to rely upon experts in managerial consulting while taking on organisational reform so as to better serve the mission entrusted to him by the board of directors.”

There’s a lot of truth in these observations, but it is also true that the papacy existed long before The Economist, the BBC, the MBA and the CEO, and it will continue long after they have been replaced by other channels and acronyms. A secular “solution” for a belief system would neither please secularists nor believers, but the speculation does fill space until the white smoke emerges and, in the case of The Economist and the BBC, the conjecture is so erudite that it’s enjoyable.

Intrade didn’t predict this

Tuesday, 12 March, 2013 0 Comments

“With sincere regret we must inform you that due to circumstances recently discovered we must immediately cease trading activity on” So says the grim sentence that greets visitors to the website of the celebrated online-prediction exchange. Citing Irish law — Intrade is legally domiciled in the blessed land of St. Patrick — it said that it had been obliged to close customers’ accounts. What happened? And what were the “circumstances recently discovered”?

Well, more than a million trades took place on Intrade last year, but just 52,166 this year so far, according to the site’s statistics page, which is now offline. That must have hurt and something grave must have contributed to the fall off the cliff. Bloomberg, using the “irregularities” word, goes there. Missing in action, too, is the Intrade market page on the papal conclave, which begins today. As recently as Sunday, it had been predicting the election of an Italian pontiff, with an implied probability of 47 percent. Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, was the clear favorite with an estimated 25 percent chance of white smoke, while Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana followed with 19 percent. Now, alas, the papal electors must get on with the job in Rome without the aid of Intrade, a very worldly enterprise that fell to Earth because of “circumstances recently discovered”.


The new blind spot

Monday, 11 March, 2013 0 Comments

According to the Oxford Dictionary, one of the definitions of blind spot is “an area in which a person lacks understanding or impartiality”. The noun served as the title for the fifth episode of the first season of Homeland, which was originally broadcast on 30 October 2011. Storyline: The lone survivor of the al-Qaeda group that held Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) for eight years is captured and the CIA operatives Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) are assigned to interrogate him. At one point, Saul says to the captive:

“So, you’re a religious man and a torturer. What are you? A Catholic?”

Papabili infographic

Friday, 8 March, 2013 0 Comments

Papabile (pl. papabili) is a term coined by Vaticanologists to describe a cardinal, who is thought a possible candidate to be elected pope. Our infographic comes courtesy of The excellent John L. Allen Jr. is offering Papabile of the Day feature at the National Catholic Reporter. It’s a must-read for Vaticanologists.

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Has the nimbus been tarnished?

Thursday, 28 February, 2013 1 Comment

There is a nimbus about the Papacy, bound up with the history of the office that makes it unlike anything else on Earth. That being the case, one could view the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign as very damaging to the ancient aura he inherited. By doing something as normal as what’s being termed “retiring” he is making the mysterious very mortal. And therein lies a danger. The other-worldliness of the Papacy, its claim to divine selection, has enabled the Catholic Church to act as a bulwark against secularization in all its forms, be it the evil of communism or the sterility of consumerism. And when some new cultish belief system like warmism emerges, the historical example of the Vatican helps puts it in perspective and in its place. If the Papacy is to be “humanized”, will the forces and the fanaticisms that it has traditionally neutralized feel emboldened to stake their claim for legitimacy, now that they feel a mere man stands in their way?

Sede vacante

Thursday, 28 February, 2013 0 Comments

“From a distance, the skullcaps of a knot of cardinals looked like fuchsias,” writes Christopher Howse in the Telegraph. Getting into his stride, he adds: “The people spilt out of the Vatican state, with concentrations like iron filings round screens in the Via della Conciliazione that runs towards the kaolin-grey Tiber. The silence that fell during readings from Scripture was like walking from a noisy pub into an empty street.” One of the finest pieces written about yesterday’s events in Rome is titled “In The world bids farewell to Pope Benedict XVI.”

Christopher Howse brings his readers back to 2005 and the Mass at the opening of the conclave that elected the then-Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope: “Buildings do not last, or books. After a certain time, more or less long, all this disappears,” said the celebrant. And that’s what will happen tonight when Pope Benedict XVI retires from public life. The chair of Peter will be empty. Sede vacante. That, the Latin scholar Howse points out is the Latin ablative absolute for “the chair being empty.” Now is not a moment for grief, however:

“But I think we should not underestimate the hard-bitten ability of Catholics to distinguish between the holiness of the Church and the sinfulness of its members. Jesus Christ, they were taught from childhood, is the head of the Church, not the Pope. There may be crises in the Church, but the Church is not in crisis. It is growing.”

Sede Vacante

The Most Successful Institution

Monday, 25 February, 2013 0 Comments

“The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable.”

So wrote Thomas Babington Macaulay, one of Britain’s greatest historians, in an 1840 review of Leopold von Ranke’s History of the Popes. Macaulay continued:

“The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour.”

And he finished the review, titled “The Roman Catholic Church as the Most Successful Institution that Has Ever Existed“, with a glorious flourish:

She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

Macaulay understood the value of taking the long view. Sic transit gloria mundi he would have warned His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien.