Can everybody just please sit down!

The media's response to the Pope's resignation is hardly helping us to understand the 'whys' and 'whats' facing us

What next for the Catholic church?
Rev Fr Charles Gosnell CF
On 12 February 2013 14:35

So about yesterday. Where were you? What were you doing when one of the most astounding news flashes was dropped on the world?

I was at my desk, talking to my brother on the phone when I received a text message. Boom!

I was shocked, a palpable punch in the stomach and a sudden anxiety, a serious worry over what had happened.

“The Pope has resigned. WTF?” 

“Can He Do That?”


These were the texts that stood out. My immediate response of anxiety and worry is natural to us Roman Catholics. We don’t like surprises; we certainly don’t like to hear that our Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ, the Servant to the Servants of God is dying or dead, let alone so distressed and tired that he has to take us into unchartered waters of Sede Vacante!

We are a people of tradition, and it upsets us when anyone does anything outside the norms of that well-defined and understood manner of being Catholic. We like constants, and the Holy Father, the Pope in Rome is a constant, no matter your political, sociological and spiritual persuasion, there will always be a Successor to the See of Peter until the end of time (so deal with it, Laurie).

So when it’s suddenly halted, we papists get worried. We worry about what’s going on in the absence, who’s saying what and whether all the silver’s accounted for. We also don’t like being without our helmsman, because that is who and what the Pope and the Papacy is to us. 

How do we respond? Well, we pray for the Pope, we pray for the process, we pray that his successor is as strong and vigilant as the man is. We want a Shepherd who will talk to us, who will reassure us, will say things like; “do not be afraid”, because when he says it, he knows that his brothers and sisters are fearful of this world and all the prickly, seductive and juicy titbits that can distract and poison us.

His words of peace are not a hippy kind of “peace out man, chill with it” peace. The Shepherd invokes the peace that is given to us by Christ himself, a peace that the world cannot give. 

“I am too frail in mind and body to carry on”. So once those words were put out there, we all held our breath, panicked for a moment and got down to the business in hand. Prayer, prayer and more prayer!

What is hysterical but also so sad is the media response. 

First order of the day: the scandals, all the negativity and bile of people outside the Church is pointed at us; all the hacks and lightweight TV reporters go running to the nearest keyboard, camera and microphone to get their penny’s worth. “Quick lads the man is down, let’s kick him and his family more!

These savage little dogs can smell blood and they want some. What really comes out is a flatulent bilge that is devoid of content, matter and truth. They think their barking and snarling will effect change, will form in the mind of his successor, and he’ll act on the whims espoused. This execution of moral relativism is only divisive and is as certain as a cloud blown across the sky, ever-changing, never still. 

Poor children; be still, and watch time and tradition, history itself unfold. Learn from the voices of the past, about calm and patience, about charity and real order.

So to answer the original question, “WTF?” Yes it was a bit of a shocker, but all things considered was it really that surprising? 

The possibility of the resignation of a reigning Pontiff is recognised in the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church. The Code states, "If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone" (Canon 332, §2).

The norms, promulgated in 1996 by John Paul II, for the election of a Roman Pontiff also recognise that a vacancy in the office of the Bishop of Rome can occur not only as a result of the death of a Pope but also by his valid resignation (Universi Dominici Gregis, Part I, Chapter 1, §3 and Chapter 3, §77).

Following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation coming into effect at 8.00pm on Thursday, February 28th, the office of the Roman Pontiff (the Pope) will become vacant and a new Bishop of Rome will need to be elected. The current Holy Father will at that point cease to be the Bishop of Rome and will no longer hold the title of Pope, returning to the use of his baptismal name, together with the customary mode of address pertaining to a Cardinal Bishop, in all formal modes of address. 

During the period of the vacancy in the office of Roman Pontiff, the governance of the Church will be entrusted to the College of Cardinals solely for the dispatch of ordinary business and of matters which cannot be postponed. This includes the preparation of everything necessary for the election of a new Pope.

The College of Cardinals cannot, however, exercise any power or jurisdiction which is proper to that office of the Roman Pontiff. The Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, currently Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See.

It is the responsibility of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, currently Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to convoke the Congregations of the Cardinals for the election.

As for the “Why?” I leave it to his own words, his own life filled with devotion, study and hard work, challenged continuously from within and without; this man, who desires to be a saint, trying to labour in the vineyard, is drawing to the close of his life.

He wants to ensure that the most able man is at the helm, he by his own words has said he’s not strong enough anymore to carry this burden. So please just hear him, and know who he is before you talk nonsense about a man whose books and Encyclicals you’ve not read and probably never will. 

So there you go. The facts and a little reason in the face of media hysteria and conspiracy theories. I hope it does us all a dose of good. So be not afraid, all will be fine. Trust in Him who is our way, our truth and our life. And trust in His promise to us.

Father Charles Gosnell is a serving chaplain in HM Forces

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