Friday, March 19, 2010

The Voice of the People?

The Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Times, Ruth Gledhill, has found herself embroiled in some confusion. She appeared to suggest in a published piece, that Pope Benedict had not in fact been elected.
The impression was caused, it is now explained, through the work of the sub-editor, who trimmed down the original piece, rather than being her original intention.

It is a story which neatly intersects several current stories: the rumbling scandal surrounding the Church and sexual abuse in Germany, the forthcoming visit of the Pope to the UK, and the election of a lesbian as the next Episcopalian (i.e. Anglican) bishop in Los Angeles.

It was, however, a recurring comment in Ruth Gledhill’s clarification of her comments on the election of Pope Benedict (and, for that matter, any other Pope) which caught my attention. The process, she remarks, of election by a small number of cardinals is “hardly democratic”.

No it isn’t, and I think every Catholic would agree with that. And it is not intended to be. No doubt it is not a perfect system, and almost every Pope alters the system for his own successor, but in no way is it meant to be “democratic”:
Catholic congregations are excluded, as are their priests, so the Church excludes its members from having a say in who leads them.
This is not democratic. Compare trade unions, political parties, even model railway clubs, stamp collecting societies and meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
What goes on behind closed doors before the puffle of white smoke is released is a mystery and is governed by a medieval code of silence. This is scarcely democracy in action.

Pope Benedict XVIThe word “election” means choice, and “democratic” means rule of the people. The appointment of the Pope is not an exercise of the rule of the people - it never was and was never intended to be. The system the Church establishes is intended to be theocratic, not democratic - to discern God’s will for the Church, not to listen to the views, opinions and lobbying of whatever people.

God forbid - literally - that the appointment of a Pope will ever be a choice of the people. It would give rein to campaigning, to manifestos, to mudslinging and to pressure from special interest and lobbying groups. It would impress upon the Church the agenda of the mob, the media rather than the Spirit. It would lead to contemporary rather than timeless choices. It would make us anglicans.

It was the voice of the people which bellowed “Crucify, him!” but the voice of the Father which enjoins us to “listen to him”.

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