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Waiting for the White Smoke Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Election day, or sort of.  For unless the Holy Spirit imparts a remarkable concentration, we are not likely to see white smoke at the end of this day and a new pope appearing on the balcony. 

This is the first day on which the College of Cardinals will be meeting with the purpose of deliberating, but then reaching a judgment, on the successor to Benedict XVI.  While the world waits, our own Robert Royal is doing commentaries for EWTN, while the major American networks have the benefit of luminous writers in George Weigel and Fr. John Wauck.  

Weigel and Wauck offer the best hope of diverting the networks from the vulgarity that would otherwise attend these broadcasts, for most of the leading figures on the networks have little comprehension of what the Church is about. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago noted the tendency years ago to report on the Second Vatican Council as though it was acting out a revolution instead of restating in a different way a teaching firmly in place. The sense was conveyed, he thought, that the bishops were in a position to “control rather than preserve the apostolic faith.”

Russell Hittinger long ago remarked in this vein that Americans have so thoroughly absorbed a sense of “positivism” in the laws that even Catholics come to see the Church through that lens. They think that people elevated to positions of authority now have the power to reshape the positive law of the Church – that the pope could simply install, in a stroke, the ordination of women. What seems hard for some people to grasp is that the pope himself does not think he has that power, for the doctrines are anchored in truths he did not invent and which he has no power to dissolve. 

There has been talk about the possibilities of an American pope. Robert Royal reports the sense abroad that America in its secularizing culture already has an outsized influence in shaping the culture of the rest of the world. And yet that may make all the more appealing the selection of an American who has stood, with learning and wit, against the currents of relativism.

If we could have our way, Robert Royal and I both have in mind a certain candidate. I saw him first at a workshop of the bishops, in Dallas, in the early 1990s. I was giving a talk, and this young bishop from Yakima rose to ask me a penetrating question about the strands I had drawn from Aristotle and Kant. I had to find out who he was. 


          Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, U.S.A.

The surprise – and the enchantment – was amplified when I found that this man, not much older than I, with a limp lingering from polio contracted as a child, had grown up in that “Scandiwegian” neighborhood in which my wife and I had gone to high school in Chicago. This was Francis George.

He made his way into the Church through the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  His course would take him to Rome, to Latin America, to exotic Canada, earning along the way doctorates in philosophy and theology. He would become archbishop of Chicago in 1997. The reporters, seeking some assurance, asked him whether he would be an archbishop in the style of his predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. “Well you see,” he said, “the Church has this aversion to cloning.”

He invited my wife and me into dinner when I finally came into the Church a few years ago, and we could sense the nerve and wit he had to summon every day in a Chicago so wildly different from the place in which we had grown up. He had a Mayor Daley now applauding the parade for Gay Rights and a President Obama poised to assault the teachings of the Church on abortion. He knew something about politics in Chicago – he could understand what moved the younger Mayor Daley.  And yet his skill has been to insist on the moral teaching of the Church, to deal respectfully, but to hold firmly against the currents whirling around him.

In his book The Difference God Makes, he had a line I especially treasured, because it touched a situation I’ve faced. He recalls a woman sitting next to him on a plane, and asking, as an earnest Evangelical, whether he had been “saved.” He later wrote: “She could not grasp the width, the expansion, of the act of faith in the Catholic Church, which is so much more inclusive than simply a faith that Jesus is our personal savior.”

Our faith includes also our understanding of the Church herself as part of divine revelation. He told the woman on the plane that he had indeed been saved, “but within a sacramental system that demands my free participation.”

He is now 76, with health always a concern, and the odds are against his selection. But if the Cardinals are willing to settle on the most solid of men, even without promise of a long, long reign, he should not be discounted. Still, his very presence, in the heart of these deliberations is itself a ground of hope that something good will come. 

And one real consolation is this:  With all of the commentaries we are about to hear, we will mercifully hear no projections this week on the way Ohio is likely to go.

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (26)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, March 12, 2013
Thank you for your article on Cdl George and your friendship with him.John Rao, Ph.D., history professor at St. John's Univ. in N.Y. would disagree with you when dismiss the idea of a "revolution" having occurred in the Church. He refers to the "Revolution" over the last fifty years icluding the priest facing the people during Mass, removed altar rails, Communion in the hand received while standing,the decline of the use of the Sacrament of Penance, female altar servers, NONE OF WHICH WERE EVER MENTIONED, MUCH LESS ALLOWED, IN ANY OF THE DOCUMENTS OF VAT II. Dr. Rao's fear,and mine, is that the majority of the Cardinals at Vat II are COUNCIL DAMAGE DENIERS who will elect someone of low caliber who will allow the Church to slide into irrelevancy. When a recent poll cites 52% of "catholics" can support "same-sex marriage", what is left to hold on to?
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written by DS, March 12, 2013
Manfred, There is a common thread of desperation in your comments about the state of the Church. This is a distinctly non-Catholic way of thinking. Pushed to its extreme, it is devoid of hope (as Blessed John XXIII noted in his opening address at Vatican II), and ironically becomes the very thing that many criticize as the misguided "Spirit of Vatican II", ie, that what really matters in the Church is what we do/think, not what God does. Where you see danger in the current conclave, I see a deep reaffirmation of faith that the Holy Spirit will do its work through flawed and sinful, but FAITHFUL, human beings, the College of Cardinals. So amidst a changed liturgy and confusion over same-sex marriage, remember that Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the age. He will not abandon the Church. That is enough to hold on to.
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written by Howard Kainz, March 12, 2013
It is an unwritten requirement for papability that the candidate be seriously multilingual. Among American cardinals, Cardinal O'Malley fits this requirement, but I'm not sure about the others.
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written by midwestlady, March 12, 2013
No, the revolution of progressive vs. conservative is over and has been for at least 10 years. The issue now is discerning the mission of the Church. Are we primarily a religious organization that strives to "make disciples of all nations," or are we a global charitable organization that seeks to make the world better? This is the big issue.
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written by Seanachie, March 12, 2013
The U.S. is truly blessed to have so many Cardinals that merit consideration for papal succession. Cardinal George, a humble and immensely qualified priest/pastor, would make an excellent choice. I suspect the "recent poll" cited by Manfred was a Quinnipiac poll whose interpretation has been roundly criticized by The Catholic League. Catholic League spokesman, Bill Donohue, reporeted that, "reporters from CNSNews.com contacted Quinnipiac. What they admitted totally alters the outcome: 55 percent of Catholics who are regular church-goers are opposed to gay marriage, and only 38 percent favor it. This is important because Quinnipiac’s Peter A. Brown was cited all over for claiming that “Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage. Nonsense." Perhaps, as some my believe, the sky isn't falling for Catholicism.
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written by Manfred, March 12, 2013
@Howard: Cdl Ranjith speaks many languages and he also insists on his priests saying Mass ad orientem (even if it is Novus Ordo) and insists that communicants receive on the tongue.
@DS: Thank you for your constructive comments. A Pope has just admitted that the modern world and the problems in the Church have gotten beyond his ability to address them effectively. He has resigned. The Pres. of the USCCB, Cdl Dolan, has just admitted in August that the U.S. Catholic bishops have not taught sexual morality for 44 years, ever since Humanae Vitae was issued. This has resulted in "confusion over same-sex marriage..". It is also admitted that two generations of Amer. Catholics have never been properly catechised. They do not know what being Catholic really entails.Have I made up any of the above? If not, I think the patient (the Church) is indeed quite ill and the usual bromides just no longer suffice. Forget Bl John XXIII and his hope. Look where his hope has brought us. He disobeyed the Mother of God by not broacasting Her "prophecy of doom" (his words) which was a call for worldwide conversion and penance. 50 million U.S. abortions, endless wars and aberrosexual "marriage" (described in the Old and New Testaments as an "Abomination") becoming normative. These are the true fruits of the Council. Am I the only one on this site who sees this?
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written by Howard Kainz, March 12, 2013
@Manfred: You seem to indicate that Pope John XXIII called Our Lady's Fatima message a "prophecy of doom" and refused to publish the "secrets" because of this negative judgement. What is your source for this?
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written by DS, March 12, 2013
Manfred, many people see what you see but have not lost hope.

One has to first answer a basic question: whether one believes that Vatican II was a legitimate council and inspired by the Holy Spirit? If so, then one must not lose heart and have faith - despite the reality of much of your litany of woes - that the Council's real fruit will become apparent in the fullness of time.

If not, and one believes Vatican II is illegitimate or inspired by evil forces, or that hearsay testimony related to Fatima overrides the work of the Council, that is quite another matter. Those arguments can be called convincing or tempting, but not Catholic.
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written by Tony Esolen, March 12, 2013
I have no doubt that whoever he is, Pope Leo XIV will disappoint the secular press, and secular Catholics, and the National Catholic Disorder; and I'm gratified to hear good things in the last few days about several cardinals about whom I had harbored doubts.

The press is vulgar, which is bad enough; and stupid, unable to think, which is worse. "Church beset by woes" -- yes, we are still a Church on this earth; what else are we going to be beset by? The Powers once crucified our Pope upside down on the Mons Vaticanus; that's pretty woeful. We are a "dysfunctional" Church, others say, forgetting or never stopping to consider what the word "dysfunctional" even means. I should like to note that our Church is not sixteen million million dollars in debt, and that the overwhelming majority of our priests keep their vows as regards sexual morality, which is a heck of a lot more than the Catholic laity can say, and don't let's even talk about our secular brethren.
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written by Quaecumque Vera, March 12, 2013
Manfred does a pretty good job of defending his positions so he hardly needs my help. The one thing I notice in this thread and on other occasions is that the reality Manfred points out is never addressed. The destruction wrought on the Church by Vatican II is not acknowledged. The truth that groups like SSPX present is not considered. I know that all is not lost in the Church and we have the promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail. But Catholics on the USA voted in a president that never met an abortion procedure he did not like. I think this alone points out the pitiful state of Catholic understanding. Doesn't the responsibility for this fall on the leaders of the Church?
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written by Manfred, March 12, 2013
@Howard: My source-The Second Vatican Council(an unwritten story) by Roberto DeMattei, Loreto Publications, page 106. I will quote a passage: "The reasons why Pope Roncalli decided to postpone the publication of the Third Secret are obvious: There was a shrill contrast between 'the prophecy of doom' of the message of Fatima and the optimistic outlook on the future of the new pontiff, who inaugurated the Second Vatican Council. The existence of this contrast between two 'prophetic visions' help us to understand the events of the following years." I hope this is helpful. Recall that the Secret had been a source of conversation for decades and it was understood that it would be revealed by order of the Blessed Mother no later than 1960.
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written by Manfred, March 12, 2013
@Brad: I have never disputed that the new pope would be legitimate. Do not forget the dossier the three Cardinals left for Benedict XVI about Cardinals, many of whom are in the Curia, who might be subject to blackmail due to their actions in the past.The new pope's tasks will be massive. In terms of the Church changing, It simply can't. I will cut you some slack as you are a convert, but you should read through salient documents of the First Vatican Council: If anyone should say, that because of the advances in science the Church must teach the truths It has always taught in a different manner, anathema sit. THAT is why Humanae Vitae was so profound-after years of accepting the fact that the teaching would be changed, Paul VI, at tremendous cost to himself finally had to agree that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, could not change Its teaching. By the way, do the readers know why there are no anathema sits (Let him be anathema!) in the documents of Vatican II? It was NOT doctrinal, it was pastoral. There really were no teachings in the Council! DeMattei and other pious scholars assert that there was really no reason to ever invoke the Council as there were no heresies to be addressed in the Church at that time. It was Benedict who used the term "rupture" to describe its results.
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written by Brad Miner, March 12, 2013
@Quaecumque Vera: Welcome to The Catholic Thing. I say welcome, because you're clearly new to our site. I can't speak to the "threads," but the hierarchy is a frequent target of criticism at TCT.
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written by Hadley Arkes, March 12, 2013
I’d like to record my thanks to Howard Kainz and Brad Miner, but also to Manfred and DS, Midwest Lady and Seanachie, for writing in today. I think Manfred touched an apt sore spot, which I’d put in this way: If Vatican II could be so distorted in the broader public understanding, or in the understanding that even Catholics took away from it, might that not be a telling sign that the Cardinals and teachers were not the teachers they needed to be in making their truer teaching known. But at the same time, I think our friends here have touched on the solid ground of our surety that—past all the turmoil and defections—the Church is firmly anchored in its understanding of itself and what it is committed to teach.
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written by Achilles, March 12, 2013
Quaecumque Vera,Vatican II is not responsible for any destruction at all, that is why it is not addressed. Poor Catholics who have misinterpreted the Council and us sinners cause the damage not the council. And SSPX, firmly rooted in disobedience which is firmly rooted in pride, what is to address about that even if they have the rest of it right? Please read Fr. Rutler’s transfiguration article, me you and your friend can all learn something here. Here is a quote:

“Nostalgia is the climate of Quietism, the anemic spirituality that basks in God’s goodness without doing anything about it. It does not go down from Tabor to go up to Jerusalem. It inverts the Christian life by being of the world but not in it. This is religion as a virtue turned into religiosity as a vice, confusing grace with rectitude and sanctification with perfectionism. The perfectionist wants to be good, and that is a subtle blasphemy: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).” Fr. Rutler Crisis magazine
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written by Tony Esolen, March 12, 2013
I'd long had two principal gripes about the documents of Vatican II: the first, that the Council Fathers were irresponsibly naive about the supposed goodness of the modern world and of democracy; the second, that the Fathers had been astonishingly inattentive to the train about to hit the wall, the sexual revolution.

When I re-read the actual documents this summer, I discovered to my pleased embarrassment that the Council Fathers were not so naive, and that they had not ignored the train-wreck in the making. The problem is not in the documents. The problem was in the disobedient clerics, who used their authority -- yes, clericalism, on full display in an "anti-clerical" move that the laity did not understand and did not desire -- to compel the ordinary people to give up much of what they had loved about the liturgy, their devotions, their schools, and their catechisms.

I was a boy in those days, but I recall being told all the time, "This is what the Church says we have to do." Sometimes I think the priests really believed it, but the result of all that disobedience was disastrous. So now, when that little old trading post called the National Catholic Reporter calls for more involvement by the laity, well, that is hypocritical in two ways at least. It wasn't the laity who cried out to have their communion rails removed and their altars reduced to rubble. It wasn't the laity who went all gaga for silly guitars at Mass. And it isn't the laity now -- those who attend Mass faithfully -- who want Sister Smile to pope it in the sanctuary, while the men roll their eyes and the youth check out.
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written by Quaecumque Vera, March 12, 2013
Achilles: You kind of make my point--You are critical of SSPX but you don't seriously consider anything they say. You say that the council is above reproach but you offer no account of why there has been so much falling away in the Church since it was promulgated.
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written by Howard Kainz, March 12, 2013
@Manfred: This is Roberto DeMatei's interpretation. "Prophets of doom" does not seem to be a quote from the Pope. I think you are making a mistake in attributing the burden of present troubles to Vatican II. The real catalyst, as you indicate indirectly, was the publication of Humanae Vitae. The reaction against it gave a rise to the strange "spirit of Vatican II" promoted by the media and Catholic dissenters. The belief that the "Third Secret" of Fatima was a "prophecy of doom" kept secret by the Vatican has been promulgated by Fatimists like Fr. Gruner, but this belief has no basis in fact.
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written by Matthew, March 12, 2013
DS,

"This is a distinctly non-Catholic way of thinking..and ironically becomes the ..."Spirit of Vatican II"

Your optimism is emotionally based because the above statement is not aligned with the facts over the last 50 years. With your optimism, Jesus would not have wept for the souls of Jerusleum but would have been joyful because Christianity was forthcoming

The spurious optimism with which some people regard declining faith, social apostasy, abandonment of worship and depravation of morals, is born of a false philosophy of religion.Only the mental habit of “circiterism” typical of our age makes it possible to regard the crisis as positive by fixing one's attention on the positive results which are allegedly to flow from it in the future. (Iota Unum )
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written by Achilles, March 13, 2013
Quaecumque Vera
I don’t think I make your point at all. What is there to say beyond my faith in Mother Church? The council was valid, it is not for me to decide it is not. I have read the council documents, I have read LaFebre, I know SSPX and I struggled many years to reconcile my personal dilemma between traddies and Orthodox.
You and Manfred both have reduced the problems in the Church to Vatican II, that is very typical of the thinking of our age. Was not the Church falling apart in all the ways you two lament even 100 years before the council? Have you read Liberalism is a Sin? The great Papal encyclicals against the modern errors? What has happened in the Church that is not in those works as plain as day? The warnings are in Newman, Chesterton, even C.S. Lewis.
Quaecumque Vera, what is it you would like to discuss? I have read the documents on ecumenism, they are not as SSPX claims. The Holy Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church, and there is no salvation outside of Her. The world is as the world is, not as you two would have it. I say the problems we are facing go back to the garden Eden, and can be traced through the arrogance of the sophists up to Bacon’s scientific method, Luther’s focus on individual reason rather than general reason, Descarts’ cogito ergo sum, and the Enlightenment thinkers shrouding our age in philosophical darkness.
So sure, the council is wordy, a byproduct of a confused age, but none the less solid despite the pharisaical moaning of a pious group of traditionalists that are more sure of themselves than of the truth. I myself am going to err on the side of Mother Church, not some self appointed prophets of doom misreading council documents.
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written by DS, March 13, 2013
Matthew,

You incorrectly characterize my viewpoint as being somehow naive, optimistic or joyful. It is not. Rather, it is grounded in the virtue of hope as defined by the Catechism: "Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit."

If we choose only to weep over the presence of sin and evil, which are indeed real, and we focus only the perceived failures of the Church and its leaders, then we do not have hope and "the foundation of Christian moral activity" (again, the Catechism) is incomplete.
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written by Achilles, March 13, 2013
Quaecumque Vera, in my haste and in the morning fog, I misspoke. I am no theologian, but I mean to say I believe in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, and I believe the promise of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.
And I have listened to SSPX and SSPV and FSSP and the sedevacantsts. Satan he comes to us as “an angel of light.” We ought not to trust ourselves too much. As St. Francis de Sales said:
“Take heed not to foster your own judgment, for, without doubt, it will inebriate you; as there is no difference between an intoxicated man and one full of his own opinion, and one is no more capable of reasoning than the other.”
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written by Quaecumque Vera, March 13, 2013
Achilles: I have read both the encyclicals condemning modernism. The dates of these is significant--1864 and 1907 I believe. Vatican II some 100 and some 50 years later was much more accomodating to the modern world. Can there be a hermeneutic of continuity. When you read the syllabus of errors from the 19th century up against Guadium et Spes it isn't clear that there can be.
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written by Matthew, March 13, 2013
DS,

Thank You for your comments. I am an optimist in that I know that the Church survives. I know that, in that survival, man has eternal hope in the eternal love of God where perfect justice and perfect mercy is manifest.

Yet, to dismiss the wrong path since VII with its logical end - a greatly diminished mystical body of Christ; a practical optimism is not called for but rather a correct diagnosis, reform and re-evangliztion.

As I write, the white smoke is seen! I hope for a "Doctor" of the church. One that is not afraid of an ugly diagnosis and the persciption of medicine needed to restore the mystical body of Christ back to vigor..

Habemus Papam!
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written by Achilles, March 13, 2013
Quaecumque Vera, I think there can be the hermenuetic of continuity. Please give me an example that there can not be from those two sources. I have always thought the subject worth considering. I have never been convinced, but not for lack of listening to SSPX. I go to many traditional sources for my own catechesis, but I draw the line at disparaging good popes and making false attributions of causes and effects.
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written by Matthew, March 13, 2013
DS, Pope Benedict XVI just recently said:

"The false optimism was the post-Council optimism, when convents closed, seminaries closed and they said “but... nothing, everything is fine! .... No! Everything is not fine. There are also serious, dangerous omissions and we have to recognize with healthy realism that in this way things are not all right, it is not all right when errors are made."

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