Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Dangerous Precedent?

ZENIT has a piece up on the newly-released memoirs of Cardinal Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (and a numerary of Opus Dei)....

Herranz reveals a 2004 conversation with Dziwisz, in which the secretary revealed that John Paul II did consider resignation, so much so that Herranz was asked to offer his opinion on the topic.

The canonical justification might be seen in some quarters as suspect, but here it is:
Commenting on the "famous Canon 332," which in the Code of Canon Law refers to the possibility of papal resignation, Cardinal Herranz quoted the phrases he himself wrote after his conversation with Archbishop Dziwisz.

"We spoke of the opinion I expressed to him -- at his request -- on the appropriateness of the Holy Father resigning on his 75th or 80th birthday. I answered that he 'should not' do so for reasons of age: Very different is the 'canonical mission' that Bishops receive from the Pope to govern a particular Church or diocese with respect to the mission that the Pope receives at the very moment of the election and acceptance." ....

Archbishop Dziwisz "limited himself to comment that 'the Pope -- who is personally very detached from the office -- lives abandoned to the Will of God. He places himself in the hands of Divine Providence.'"
"Who is personally very detached from the office...." Now that's saying a lot.
"'Moreover,'" he quoted Archbishop Dziwisz as saying, "'he is afraid of creating a dangerous precedent for his successors, as some one of them might be exposed to subtle maneuvers and pressures by those who wish to depose him.'"
Sooner rather than later, it's still going to happen. Not the deposition bit, but a papal resignation for reasons of health. Paul VI also considered it, but Paolo Dezza talked him out of it.

Ironically, it is the increasing visibility and concentration of authority in the papal office -- enhanced most of all in the pontificate of John Paul -- which have created the scenario that the Pope must always be on top of his game and able to fulfill the functions of his office, thus bringing the issue of papal resignation to the fore with particular importance.

For the last half-decade before John Paul's passing, we saw what happens when that central force is dimmed: the curial wheels fall off, and everything can easily be seen not as an initiative of the Pope, but a vindication for this or that staffer who was able to force his hand. Not to mention the lines of communication and coordination being thrown terribly out of whack.

That's no way to govern a highly-centralized church.