Fr John Hunwicke
was for nearly three decades at Lancing College; where he taught Latin and Greek language and literature, was Head of Theology, and Assistant Chaplain. He has served three curacies, been a Parish Priest, and Senior Research Fellow at Pusey House in Oxford. Since 2011, he has been in full communion with the See of S Peter. The opinions expressed on this Blog are not asserted as being those of the Magisterium of the Church, but as the writer's opinions as a private individual. Nevertheless, the writer strives, hopes, and prays that the views he expresses are conformable with and supportive of the Magisterium. In this blog, the letters PF stand for Pope Francis. On this blog, 'Argumentum ad hominem' refers solely to the Lockean definition, Pressing a man with the consequences of his own concessions'.
"The worst pope ever"?
So a correspondent wrote on one of my threads. It set me thinking.
I am convinced that PF is most certainly not the worst man ever to have been pope. OK; he has a short temper; he turns easily to abuse; he has either a very bad memory or a tendency to lie. But even striking characteristics like his propensity to accuse people of shit-eating betoken, probably, nothing more than a cultural back-ground a trifle different from our own. We middle-class British are so much more circumlocutory in our put-downs of those we dislike. "My dear fellow, with the utmost respect I'm not entirely sure that I completely agree with you" may be every bit as aggressively focussed as "You coprophagist!". We must be humble enough to be open to semantic diversity.
Anybody who seriously thinks that PF is the worst man ever to have been pope should probably read rather more Church History. I do not only have in mind the 'Marozia' popes of the period called the Pornocracy; I would also nominate Urban VI, who precipitated the Western Schism by his 'harshness and violence'; and Paul IV Caraffa, 'of ferocious character', whose malevolent hostility towards the English Catholic Church during the reign of Queen Mary made it so much easier for Elizabeth Tudor to reintroduce the Reformation to my country.
What might, much more plausibly, be argued is that PF is the worst pope in the single sense that the papal office has drastically changed under the influence of modernity, in a world of instant communications and rapid reporting and the possibility of minute-by-minute micromanagement. So this Ministry, when exercised by an impatient shoot-from-the-hip-especially-when-you're-irritated individual like PF, is more dangerous now than any exercise of the Petrine office was in the past, even in the pontificates of very bad men, back in those happy days when the ordinary layman or cleric probably knew little about the current occupant of the Roman See, and had certainly not heard about the sillier things he said in his private chapel this morning or the proclivities of his nastier cronies.
What we need after PF's death or abdication or deposition is not a better or more holy or more prayerful man. What we need is the papal office itself stripped down and cleansed from the idolatrous accretions of recent pontificates, so that it is again a Petrine Ministry which can without daily disaster be exercised by an ordinary sinful human being with ordinary human failings tempered by the Grace of God ... just like the great majority of popes over two millennia, who were neither saints nor reprobates.
Above all, a new pope will need the self-discipline to ... you thought I was going to write "Talk very much less". But that does not quite get to the heart of the problem. Very soon after this pontificate began, I wrote in a blogpost that our new pope should not be allowed out without whatever he was to say having been carefully checked by those in the Curia whose responsibility it is to give a theological shape to a pontificate.
Papal authority is not personal in an individualistic or whimsical sort of way. The pope is supposed to say, not what he feels or wants, but what the judgement of the Roman Church is as a corporate and structured body mindful of its own Holy and immemorial Tradition. (When PF, after some off-the-cuff remarks about his own liturgical preferences, emphatically added "This is Magisterium!", he thereby exemplified the main error which he entertains with regard to his own job-description.)
The first major exercise of papal authority, the letter called I Clement, has the form of something written as if by one member of the Roman Presbyterate. S Clement is not himself actually mentioned. The writer was very clearly an individual who expected to be obeyed. But he writes and judges and instructs in a corporate manner. That is why the Curia Romana has a doctrinal status and purpose. It is not meant to be a tedious bureaucracy which so sadly gets in the way of everybody being able to see what a splendid chap a pope is once he is able to shake off his staff. It is an integral part of the exercise of the Ministry which the Redeemer instituted in his Church, because an episkopos is meaningless without his presbyterium, his diakonia, his laos. And this goes for Rome as much as for any other particular Church. The earliest witnesses of the Roman Primacy, SS Ignatius and Irenaeus, do not explicitly mention the Roman Bishop; they talk about the Roman Church.
Finally: this Next Pope will need to remember the apercu of Blessed John Henry Newman, that the Ministry of the Roman Church within the Oikoumene is to be a barrier, a remora, against the intrusion of erroneous novelty.
It is: to hand on the Great Tradition unadulterated.
In an age when the adjective "negative" has unpopular vibes, we need a reappropriation at the very highest level within the Church of the central, fundamental importance of a negative and preservative, papacy. Tradidi quod et accepi implies Quod non accepi non tradam.
Posted by Fr John Hunwicke