More Catholic, Less Roman?

More Catholic, Less Roman? November 24, 2012

Today Pope Benedict is officially elevating six bishops from around the world to the role of cardinal.  When he named the last set back in January, I reflected on concerns that the high ratio of Europeans (especially Italians) to those from other parts of the world appeared to reflect more Romanitas than catholicity.  This time, however, the opposite is the case – especially considering that two of the six represent Eastern rites.

Given the unfortunate polarities we have in the Church these days, I doubt very many of the same people who were quick to point out the overabundance of Europeans-especially-Italians will be calling much attention to their absence here (scandalized Italian newspapers notwithstanding).  So I will.

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  • Rat-biter

    STM there are too many Europeans in the Curia to justify having any more. And the Church in Europe is virtually a zombie (or should that be a vampire? Or a Frankenstein’s golem?) anyway; a dead or dying Church should look elsewhere. If the CC is a Church, then pigs can fly.

    The pity is that the the Church is still shackled to the Papacy – it’s chained to a corpse, and the stink is getting unendurable. It is way past time that the Papacy stoped being allowed to get a free ride on the back of the rest of the Church, & came under the spotlight. It has never had its credentials examined properly, and the usual proof-texts don’t mean what it assumes (without examining them) that they “must” mean.

    When I first saw your title, I thought you were hoping for the sort of sort of analysis of the Papacy’s place in the Church that is so desperately needed. But no, apparently not.

    • Rat-biter

      As for *Romanitas*, even if the Papacy were any good, that does not mean the Church would need any. Romanitas is a disease, not, something desirable. So the premise of the article is mistaken – unless one is an Ultramontane clericalist – & neither of those things is good for a Church (assuming it aspires to be Christian). Romanitas is like Japanese knot-weed – very sturdy, omnipresent, impossible to get rid of.

    • I’m really struck by this comment. Not from any kind of epiphany from its terrible argument, but just from the realization that you don’t find repeating this kind of mindless dreck, well, boring. Really, do you think venting your spleen against the “corpse” that is the Vicar of Christ on this site is actually going to accomplish anything except point yourself out as someone with more time on their hands than they should, as someone who takes their talking points from men like Zwingli or Foxe rather than, you know, the saints?

      I’m laughing at you right now, as if after spitting your venom you can put on the cloak of objectivity and the mask of reasonable, “I just think we should be asking questions here, I’m not invested in the answers,” discussion, and pretend you’re a free thinker, someone unbound by those nasty prejudices and spiritual shackles those slaves of Rome have. Too funny by half!

    • Nes

      I literally laughed out loud after reading the bit about the “stinking corpse” of the Papacy. Not because it hit home or anything, just that – as far as trite, cliché rhetoric goes, this takes the cake. God, I love people with an ill-informed agenda and an extremely limited imagination.

    • Thales

      It is way past time that the Papacy stoped being allowed to get a free ride on the back of the rest of the Church, & came under the spotlight. It has never had its credentials examined properly,

      Heh. Yeah, who’s vetting the Holy Spirit to make sure He picks right?

  • Julia Smucker

    Cardinal Tagle got emotional. I find that somehow endearing.

    Who was it that was hoping he was papabile back when he was appointed Archbishop of Manila? And was that just this year?

  • Whether Poor Jeremiah or Julia Smucker like it or not, Rat-biter has a point. Indeed Pope Paul VI Montini averred, as the Second Vatican Council was closing, that the papal office was the great “sticking point” regarding Christian unity, and he suggested that its prerogatives might have to be re-examined in the distant future. What Poor Jeremiah apparently doesn’t know is that there was considerable consternation, among theologians, when the First Vatican Council proclaimed “papal infallability” to be a dogma of the Church. One of the, perhaps, too-quiet resisters was John Henry Newman. Apparently Leo XIII must have thought Newman was right when he proclaimed that the “individual conscience” too precedence over the Magisterium (in his “Letter to a Noble Duke,” because that pope made Newman a cardinal. Romanitas really IS the bane of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; it unnecessarily cost us England, during the Reformation.

    • Julia Smucker

      I have not said anything favorable about Romanitas, or indeed anything to the contrary of what you are saying here. Rat-biter is way too vitriolic and hostile toward the Church itself, but I know well that the papal office is the great sticking point in the efforts toward visible unity – and so does pretty much everyone who has ever represented the Catholic Church in formal ecumenical dialogue. (One can certainly acknowledge that much without calling it a stinking corpse.)

    • Jordan

      re: digbydolben [November 25, 2012 6:07 am]: Romanitas really IS the bane of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; it unnecessarily cost us England, during the Reformation.

      I agree that Rome’s inflexibility was the torch which lit the English Reformation. However, the tinder had been building under that fire for at least two centuries. Tyndale, the Lollards, feudal monasteries which held thousands of people in serfdom? The rise of Cranmer would not have happened, or would have been attenuated, if he did not have the continental reformation and London bourgeoisie behind him. One wonders if England could have become an early-modern society in the late 16th century if it weren’t for the gradual Protestantization of the country in that century.

      What will be interesting to see with regards to Romanitas is the high probability that one of the succeeding popes will not be able to read Latin. John Paul II was proficient; Benedict XVI’s Latin is superb. Can the Latin rite be truly Latin if the Pope cannot correct the Latin translations set before him? Will the inevitability of a non-Latin reading pope signal that the Roman and Latin rite is no longer either? Perhaps this future development should be seen from a positive standpoint: the final disappearance of Latin might be the sign of a truly global Church with its corporate headquarters, but not cultural heart, in Rome and in Europe.

  • Kurt

    There is a school of thought that it is an act of Romanitas to make cardinals from members of the Eastern churches. The Melkite Patriarchate declines the office, considering it both inferior to the Patriarchial office and an office of the Latin Church.

    • dominic1955

      Indeed. It would seem that Patriarchs and their equivalents (I think some Eastern Churches have Major Archbishops and not ‘patriarchs’) could be given the right to vote in Conclaves without being made Cardinals. Western “patriarchs” are honorifics (i.e the Archbishop of Lisbon or the Archbishop of Venice) and so is the office of Cardinal.

      As to who becomes Pope and who gets named Cardinal, it doesn’t matter one bit where they are from. The Church certainly is diverse, but we do not need to follow the world in forming some tokenist proof that we are “diverse”. If they are strong bishops, worthy defenders of the Faith then give them the red hat. After all, the red is supposed to symbolize that these men are to shed their blood for the Faith should it be necessary. That means, if all the Cardinals made are from the “Third World” or none of them are, so be it.

      As to the Papal office being a “sticking point”, when people realize Catholicism is the true faith, the field in which the pearl of great price is found, they sell all they have to get it. Big surprise, unless one is Catholic or coming over to Catholicism, the Papacy (and lots of other things) are going to be “sticking points”. There was a time when less centralism would have been nice, now is not the time, not yet at least.

      • Kurt

        I have long had an appreciation for the proposal that the Eastern Patriarchs be named “papal electors” ex-officio without being made Cardinals.

        The Church is not diverse if all of the Cardinals are Italians. But rather than worry too much about the internationalization of the College and the Curia, I would propose we stop treating the sacred offices of the episcopacy and the priesthood as the Vatican equivalent of “GS” grades. No person should be made priest or bishop (or even archbishop) for the purpose of serving as a bureaucrat at the Vatican. While the Office of Deacon is one of service, including Church administration, so person might be ordain deacon to serve the Church in the Vatican bureaucracy, the priests, bishops and archbishops working as bureaucrats there should men that formerly served as parish pastors or the shepherd of a (arch)diocese. No more bishops that never had a pastoral ministry for a single year of their life.

  • trellis smith

    I actually prefer that the bishop of Rome return to being if not Roman at least Italian. These most recent barbaric incursions are akin to the original invasions that took the ideals and turned them into the ground rules.

    • Julia Smucker

      I disagree: insofar as the Bishop of Rome is also the head of the universal Church, a return to the long legacy of Italian popes would send the wrong message at this point. The only thing worse, in my view, would be an American pope – too much ecclesial entanglement with the “empire” of our day.

      • dominic1955

        Again, who cares what “message” it sends. We don’t need to have a Pope based on PR considerations. If the next one happens to be from somewhere other than Europe, hopefully it is because he is going to feed the Lord’s sheep and not play kissy-face with the age.

        • Julia Smucker

          My concern is not so much about PR as it is about catholicity.

      • dominic1955

        Still, I don’t think the nationality of the next popes sends a “message” and true catholicity shouldn’t be concerned with such a “message”. If that is the case then what does it matter from whence the next Pope comes from? The Holy Spirit saw fit that the Church’s center was to be Rome, not Jerusalem or Antioch and that the Bishopric of Rome would be the See of the Successor of Peter. Thus, if the next 50 popes are Italian-so be it, or American or Ugandan what does it matter?

        • Kurt

          Thre is no doctrine of the Chuch that the Holy Spirit chose the city of Rome for the Petrine Ministry. Peter chose Rome, maybe by accident; maybe with good reason. But it was done and there it is.

        • Jordan

          re: Kurt [November 29, 2012 3:57 pm]: A more likely explanation is that the diocese of Rome rose to a leadership position in the fourth and fifth centuries during the decline and eventual fall of the western Roman empire. The conflation of the papacy with monarchy arose, in part, from the reality that popes were often de facto temporal leaders of Rome in times of political instability (e.g. invasions, sacks of the city).

          Rome’s claim of papal supremacy over the universal church, including the eastern patriarchies and synods, is a later accretion. I suspect that Paul VI’s sollicitude towards Patriarch Anaxagoras in part reflected the relative youth of the claim of papal supremacy.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I am not going to step into the contretemps between Rat-biter and Poor Jeremiah. But I would like to note the specific literary stylings of the latter. It seems that conservative Catholics are really all using the same lock-step playbook in the stylistic “how” to do apologetics. To wit, 1.) Strike the pose that any criticism of the RC church’s governmental structure is prima facie incoherent. 2.) In blithe opposition to the actual current state of societal opinion, pretend that a position against ultramontanist themes is risible, instead of the other way around. 3.) Attempt to portray the current accepted academic requirements for coherence as different from ones that would allow for a critique of the Catholic Church. In other words, in all three stylistic strategies, to just assume the exact opposite of what obtains in the real world, and amongst careful educated opinion. Then when that fail, or is pointed out, recourse is taken in “the whole world is against us and wants to persecute us trope”. They never seem to notice how strange it seems to others that one minute they pretend that all the assumptions favor their views, and thus make others risible, and the next minute they are sure that there is a hater behind every bush. That psychological tendency itself should be a tip off that there is is something unstable about the thinking. The more temperate assumption, is that most are happy to let such people believe what they want, unmolested, but that their views are simply not remotely worthy of being taken seriously. It seems in the Catholic realm that a serious defense of their historical institutions would require a huge amount of creative cherry-picking to say the least!

    • Julia Smucker

      I’ve run into a few of the audacious characters on the far right as you describe, but I’m a little confused about how this desription is playing into the discussion at hand. Are you implying that you find Rat-biter’s rant coherent? Here he’s bashing the papacy and the entire Catholic Church with some vivid metaphors but no substantive argument, and next thing you know he’ll be acting as a mouthpiece for the SSPX. Talking about self-contradiction, that’s about as unstable as it gets. And I cannot for the life of me figure out where he gets the idea that I am promoting ultramontanism.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Thank you for printing my response, as my points must seem sometimes like a Schoenbergian tone row at a St. Louis Jesuit Mass. Look, the only coherent thing to be said about anybody’s religion is that they have an unfettered right to it. And a notion of the Catholic church without the Papacy is about as contradictory as it gets. But I was talking about the stylistic matters. I do find it strange that conservative Catholics especially consistently strike a pose of having the upper hand societally even. When the opposite is true. I can’t explain it, but there it is. They’re done, and that can’t even conceptualize how finished their influence. What cushions the blow is the overabundance of Catholic schools of higher education, which function one degree or other as a place for intellectuals of a certain stripe to come up with entertaining rationales (for Cardinals and other decision makers) is to the jig that is up is really not up. If they really want to just be about making their own religion more profound, then get to it. But pretending that a ‘religion with a Papacy” is not quite anachronistic for much of society — as if it were intrinsically funny to even consider such a thing– is just a kind of unhinged assumption about one’s place in the world.

        Just this afternoon, I was looking for something to watch with lunch, and I came upon the Journey Home program on EWTN with a Monsignor Frank Lane. He was the funniest ever one this show, and very much on point for this discussion, especially stylistically. In response to a question about people that criticize the RC Church for its problems from the Inquisition to the Abuse Scandal of today, he rounded out his reflections by saying the “the Church is not a sociological phenomenon but a mystical one.” This is a strange assertion for a Church that emphasizes “incarnation”, but there it is. But Lane’s comment perfectly evinces the utter inability to conceptualize the actual sociological position of the organization. But instead of honestly admitting that inability — even if you still wanted to maintain it — they seem to assume that somehow they still should hold a paramount position of respect. No go. I respect Catholic that want to live out their ancient faith in ways that are commensurate with the results of the counter-culture nature of that faith in some ways. Trying to come up with a new way that they can have their cake and eat it too, of having societal influence and yet being apart from it, is delusory plain and simple. One has a right in any free society to hold views counter to the culture. But then one can’t expect that one is going to have an influential position in it. And when they don’t have that influence they cannot say it is because of prejudice. It is not. There are many good things in the Catholic tradition in my view. There are also many silly and atavistic things. The current lack of influence is caused entirely by the silly stuff. That is the only real coherent conclusion.

        (Btw, I can’t help adding that this Monsignor Frank Lane, after saying that the Council of Trent had defined that one cannot be sure of salvation, was left in a very hilariously awkward spot trying to answer a person’s question about Fatima’s promise that if you attend the “First Saturdays” that you will definitely make it into heaven. Of course, like much of the rest of his historical analysis it was fanciful and obscure. Trent both made commentary in the vein he asserted, but also failed to do away with “plenary” indulgences which created a very vast wiggle room for being sure about salvation. Similarly, Lane had zero ability to defend against the Fatima promise on the first saturdays, and First Fridays.He just burbled on. There are these conundrums at the heart of Catholic theology and popular piety that literally never get solved from age to age. If a glaring contradiction like that one is never solved, how can more complex matters like that bourhgt up by another guest on the same show (Howick I think) who asserted that “bad popes were silent about theology” and thus no Pope ever said anything heretical ever!! Incredible. AS a tradition I just wish at this point would just forget all these intellectual stuff at this point and just be honest about the motivation. We believe just because we like believing this and for no other reason, and we don’t care if it is even true with our own history. They would have a lot of company in the world.

        • Julia Smucker

          Peter Paul, thank you for this explanation. While I don’t think it applies to the responses to Rat-biter’s unhinged ravings, I share your critique of a certain fundamentalism that exists both within and outside of the Catholic Church (most commonly in Evangelical Protestantism). I think the contradiction you notice comes from sitting right on the ideological fault line between “Christ of Culture” and “Christ against Culture” (to use H. Richard Niebuhr’s terms). There is a point at which those two positions, which seem like polar opposites, come full circle and converge, which has some people talking out of both sides of their mouth: the secular world is threatening and thoroughly evil, yet we expect it to endorse Christianity.

    • dominic1955

      I think you’ve just stepped into the same practice. Neither one really said anything substantive and neither have you.

    • lol what.

      Rat-Biter was talking as if he were some disinterested party, after calling the Pope a corpse. That’s not an argument, and I have no obligation to treat it as such! But I am very amused that you place on me your own preconceived notion of what my rhetoric, thinking, and even psychology is. Tell me, does your magic mirror let you see into every person’s heart, or just the ones you don’t like?

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Poor Jeremiah,

        Your jeremiad must be riffing on Woody Allen’s famous joke. About the kid that got busted for cheating on his Metaphysics exam, because he was got caught peering into his classmate’s soul.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    In response to Kurt and Jordan’s dialogue– I know that the following explanation is so, so old and quaintly Victorian at this point, but it is still true. Namely, that in terms of actual influence on how the Papacy and its locus in Rome took on the force and traction that it did, really nothing compares in import with the Donation of Constantine. The great luck (or genius foresight) of those who concocted that little creatio ex nihilo is that later generations, much later, were somehow confused enough about what had been transpired around the time of the concoction, that it seemed that to question it too closely, would bring one perilously close to questioning the whole ensemble of Councils that decided creedal matters and what ended up in the Bible. (thus even exercised Protestants were surprisingly little interested in it, and it was left for more skeptical gentleman-historian types to do). The result is that what was from start to finish a total fraud, is somehow never really factored in to how the Papacy took the form it did. And famous old pro-Catholic apologetical books like the amusingly titled No Popery! actually claimed that to even point out anything about the Donation of Constantine was itself a tactic of base anti-Catholicism. One has to give them points for cleverness.

    • gadria

      Who is ‘them’ really?
      As far as I am concerned each one of us has a bit of the ‘them’ in us.
      As a matter of fact we are right now very much involved in coming up with ‘oh so clever’ ideas to adjust the Catholic religion this way or that way – all in the name of a good future.
      We certainly all know that the fundamentalist Catholics care very much. So much so, that they actually see no use for our kind– other than as mortal enemies that will ‘hopefully’ fizzle away in a grand ‘biological’ solution – good luck with that concept fellas I say.
      But do we liberals care equally passionately?
      After we are done rationalizing and decoding religion do we have a foundation left upon which to built a ‘better’ church?
      Personally I am very much done with waiting for the Pope to make it magically all work.
      Yes Papacy is religious monarchy – they do not even pretend otherwise – cardinals as the princes of the church .. We know that Monarchy has not a great future as a leadership model in the modern world- but lets not forget while Monarchy is clearly on the way out – plenty of folks very much are smitten with the Queen Elizabeth’s, Princess Di’s and Kate Middleton’s of this world ☺

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        I have deliver my rather dry opinion, that the British monarchy, whatever its problems, has been about 10 times more clever and virtuous than the Roman Papacy in modern times. Perhaps having a “Mrs. Simpson” crisis (which btw was the name of one of our favorite restaurants in DC years go) is good for the sanity and soul. (The RC church has had countless of such crises, but never acknowledged and dealt with in a salutary fashion.)