Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to abdicate at the end of the month is such an unusual and unprecedented action that a fair degree of uncertainty is only natural. But there are several things you can always count on during the transition from one pope to the next.
For one thing, lots of people, especially journalists covering the Vatican, will play the game of guessing who the next pope will be, and most won’t be any good at it. Few events attract as much attention as a papal election.
Another thing you can be sure of: Along with the speculation about the next pope, people will wonder if, or hope that, the next pope will transform the Catholic Church into a pitiful, superfluous and useless clone of the Episcopal Church or the Unitarian-Universalists.
We can also be confident that the media coverage will exhibit ignorance of and sometimes disdain for Catholicism, since most journalists who write about the Vatican aren’t Catholic or else are poorly catechized and/or lapsed Catholics who know little and care less about their nominal or former faith.
That’s why we find unintentionally eyebrow-raising gaffes such as the following, from an Associated Press profile on the soon to be ex-pontiff:
“The Vatican said Benedict would live in a congregation for cloistered nuns inside the Vatican ... .”
Whoa now! Just hold on a second! Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, the orthodox “doctrinal watchdog” whom political and theological liberals and heretics love to hate, is going to join a congregation of nuns?? That’s got to be music to the ears of those who reject the Christian teachings regarding human sexuality and priestly ordination. If a pope can join a congregation of nuns, surely the Catholic Church will be ordaining women and approving of homosexual conduct in no time, right?
I imagine the AP took some well-earned ribbing for that absurdity, for the Vatican had said no such thing. Obviously the pope won’t be living in a convent with nuns. Rather, as subsequent AP reports correctly stated, he will live in “a convent previously occupied by cloistered nuns” that is being remodeled to serve as simple living quarters for the former pontiff.
Though the AP corrected that mistake, it wasn’t long before another AP writer uttered some gobbledygook about the Catholic faith. In a story about “Vatican secrecy,” the hapless journalist earnestly informed his readers that “Vatican secrecy is legendary and can have tragic consequences — as the world learned through the church sex abuse scandal in which bishops quietly moved abusive priests without reporting their crimes.”
But the shameful phenomenon of bishops covering up the crimes of sexually deviant priests and quietly moving them cannot be classified as an example of “Vatican” secrecy, since the bishops who engaged in that misconduct were not Vatican officials and were not required by any church law or Vatican directive to hide those crimes.
The same AP report goes on to make hash of Catholic doctrine, falsely and misleadingly claiming, “The Vatican justifies itself by arguing that its officials are holders of the divine truth, unaccountable to worldly laws,” and implicating the doctrines of papal primacy and infallibility as to blame for “Vatican secrecy.”
Sadly, the report does not accurately explain the Catholic Church’s rationale for maintaining secrecy and discretion in various matters. It’s not possible to delve into that rationale in this column, but suffice it to say that the pope’s supreme authority and the Church’s claim that Catholicism is true and divinely revealed have got nothing to do with it.
But those are the kinds of misperceptions and silly errors you can expect to encounter in most secular journalistic coverage of the Catholic Church.
There’s one other thing you can expect whenever the Church has to choose a new pope. Some people will wonder if the next pope will be the last one, that is, the one who will be reigning when the world ends — and invariably, some people will bring up the so-called Prophecies of St. Malachy which supposedly foretold every pope from the Middle Ages until Judgment Day.
According to these purported prophecies, the next pope will be the last one. Who knows? Perhaps he will be the last. We’ll surely find out sooner or later.
But I think the most important thing we need to know about the Prophecies of St. Malachy is something Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, told me soon after Benedict XVI’s election: “Never forget that ‘Malachy’ is where we get the word ‘malarkey.’”
Jared Olar may be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.