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Andreas R. Batlogg SJ {*}

The Pope as the First Among Equals


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 4/2012, P. 217 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Just before Christmas 2011, there opened in German cinemas the film "Habemus Papam" by Italian director Nanni Moretti, with the unfortunate (German) subtitle "A Pope skedaddles." It does not deal with theological contents but with the "necessity of representation" (Joachim Hake). As an outsider, nobody in the conclave had reckoned on him, Cardinal Melville - portrayed by the 85 year old Michel Piccoli - accepts admittedly the election. But while from the loggia of St. Peter a cardinal is announcing that the election has taken place and just wants to disclose the name of the new pope, the latter is afflicted with a panic attack. The pontiff who is sitting behind a curtain and is still invisible to the waiting crowd lets out a cry: He can not and does not want - a nightmare scenario for the speaker of the College of Cardinals, who respond in a baffled way.

But the question "Why me of all people?" is not only a cinematic fiction. On the occasion of his first audience for pilgrims from Germany, Pope Benedict XVI, on 19 April 2005 elected as successor of John Paul II, resorted to a forceful image in order to express his feelings in the conclave. "When, little by little, the trend of the voting led me to understand that, to say it simply, the axe was going to fall on me, my head began to spin. I was convinced that I had already carried out my life's work and could look forward to ending my days peacefully. With profound conviction I said to the Lord: Do not do this to me! You have younger and better people at your disposal, who can face this great responsibility with greater dynamism and greater strength."

Still five years later, he said in an interview with journalist Peter Seewald, "It was really a shock to see that the incredible thing now actually happens. ... The only comfort I had was the insight that there must be besides the major popes also minor popes who play their part." This is done by him - and on 16 April 2012 Benedict XVI completes the 85th year of his life. After the initial euphoria ("We are Pope") disillusionment has come, on both sides of the Alps. One buys it from Joseph Ratzinger that he would prefer to end his life in retirement with writing books and articles. For seven years he has been administering the highest office that can be assigned by the Church, and nobody will seriously deny that he is scrupulously discharging the duties of his office, of course, with other accents than his Polish predecessor. Nevertheless, according to many observers Benedict XVI still appears to be somebody who has not really accepted his role and prefers to act as an independent scholar ("Prof. Dr. Pope"): at the "students' meetings" held in late August of each year since his days as Cardinal, his Wednesday Catechesis, the "Regensburg Lecture" (2006), in Berlin's Reichstag or in the Konzerthaus in Freiburg (2011).



Pontificating belongs to his appearance and manner. No doubt: This pope has a say in theology!

In the Italian Jesuit magazine "La Civilta Cattolica, edition 3249 of 2 November 1985 - John Paul II was then in office for seven years - an editorial was published titled "II ministero del Papa dopo i due Concili Vaticano" (The ministry of the Pope after the two Vatican Councils). Since this journal is a semiofficial paper, from this it follows that the Vatican or the papal Secretariat of State, which revised the published articles, had no objection to their publication. In the 13-page contribution it says that the "aura", which in 1870 had been created by defining the papal infallibility and primacy of jurisdiction, had led to the excesses of Papolatria and the Byzantine court ("le esagerazioni della papolatria e del bizantinismo aulico"). "Papolatria" means veneration resp. idolization of the pope, i.e. a personality cult - with bloopers that verge on hysterics.

This mentality, which has never completely disappeared, is today in the ascendant again. In the interview with Peter Seewald Benedict XVI has admittedly said, "The Second Vatican Council has taught us rightly, that collegiality is constitutive for the structure of the church, that the pope can only be as the first among equals, and not someone who as an absolute monarch would make the decisions, and everything alone." His administration, however, shows a different reality: decisions are made single-handedly, "explanations" are subsequently given to the world episcopate, as e.g. in connection with the SSPX, unsuccessful personnel decisions, theologically motivated changes in canon law. Even after embarrassing communication mishaps, there is no "government" in the manner of a cabinet which regularly meets, coordinates, and directs, as it has for years repeatedly been suggested by various parties - in this journal spelled out by Hans Maier. Giuseppe Dossetti, a close associate of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, had already during the Council audibly reflected about this form of collegiality.

The intellectual Pope isolates himself or is isolated. He seems at times like a prisoner in the Vatican, where again "court is held" - papacy as a baroque ceremony. Does Benedict XVI want this? Liturgical and other partialities are conspicuous. But why does the Pope not use his possible scope of action for theologically really essential matters?

Cardinal Michele Pellegrino, former Archbishop of Turin, said in 1981 in an interview, which was made available in German in the Herder Korrespondenz, on the question of whether he would contradict the Pope, "Certainly! You must speak. You have honestly and clearly to tell the Pope how you assess the situation. As bishops, we are the cooperators of the pope, as cardinals we are the Senate of the Holy See. It is our task and our duty, and not just a luxury. I've always wanted that one talks clearly to me, and I therefore think it is my duty to speak clearly to the Pope. You help him with that."


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'