Thursday, 14 February 2013

Popes and popes

I was going to write that I thought Pope Benedict was past retirement age when he was elected, aged just over 78, but then I remembered that John XXIII was nearly 77 at the time of his election in 1958, and he was by far the most memorable Pope of my lifetime. Everything about him was singular. He was remarkable in particular for his aid to Jews in the time of Mussolini. He was elected to his own great surprise as a stop-gap to keep the throne warm for Giovanni Montini (later Paul VI), who was not a cardinal at the time of the election. He took a name which had last been used by an Antipope, one of the three claimants to the Papacy in the Western Schism (which ended in 1415 with the last resignation of a living Pope). He immediately seized the affections of the world, including many non-Catholics, by his warmth and openness. He set about organizing the Second Vatican Council, which opened full of hopes for new thinking on contraception, priestly celibacy, worker priests, even perhaps Papal Infallibility?! Alas, John died in June '63 before the Council had finished its work. Paul VI was like a shower of cold water and he stopped talk of reform. John-Paul I took a promising name but died after a few weeks. John-Paul II was charismatic but very conservative. Benedict XVI is a great theologian no doubt, but totally lacking in charisma. More than half the cardinals are his nominees and the rest are John-Paul's, so don't expect any surprises, but it would be exciting if we could have a John XXIV.

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