John Paul II World reaction
THE papal health crisis has prompted further debate about the future of the papacy, with leading Catholic commentators arguing in favour of John Paul’s resignation, writes Freddy Gray.
Many Vatican observers across the world now feel that the Pope’s physical condition is so poor that he is incapable of performing his duties, and should therefore step down from office.
On Friday, Andrew Sullivan, a leading British-born Catholic commentator in America, went one step further. While applauding the Pope’s emphasis on the dignity of suffering, Mr Sullivan suggested that the Pope should not insist on hanging on to life.
“Isn’t the fundamental point about Christianity that our life on earth is but a blink in the eye of our real existence?” he asked on his weblog.
“Isn’t there a moment at which the proper Christian approach to death is to let it come and be glad? Or put another way: if the Pope is so desperate to stay alive, what hope is there for the rest of us?” On the other hand, cardinals and bishops across the world have been quick to defend the Pope’s right to carry on as the spiritual leader of the world’s one billion Catholics.
Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, was forthright in his support of the Pontiff. “The papacy is a lifelong office and it is a very important symbol,” he said. “Provided Pope John Paul can communicate by writing, I’m certainly not in favour of him resigning.” The outgoing Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who recently stepped down from office himself, said that only the Pontiff could decide whether to step down. “The Pope must do what he thinks to be the will of God to accomplish his mission,” he told a French radio station.
Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, agreed that a papal resigna tion could come only from the Pope himself, but was happy to admit that he had considered who might succeed John Paul II. “As his health weakens, naturally it would be irresponsible not to think about that, at least in your own heart and your own prayers,” he said.
The debate has fuelled further speculation that the Pope has signed a resignation letter that states he should be removed from office if he falls into a coma or becomes mentally incapacitated.
Senior Vatican officials have denied any knowledge of such a document But Michael Walsh, a papal biographer, claimed on television last week that he had been told by reliable sources that such a statement did exist.
It is thought that any such papal declaration would be in the hands of Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s secretary and his most trusted adviser.
Pope Paul VI is known to have signed a similar letter, but the document was never invoked because he was lucid until his death from a heart attack in 1978.
There is no process in Church law to remove an incapacitated Pope. If John Paul II were to fall into a coma, and there was no resignation, the Church would be leaderless, and there would be no procedure to replace him. This could provoke an extraordinary crisis.
The revolution in the speed and size of the media in the last 30 years has meant that the current pontiff’s health is scrutinised more closely than that of any other Pope in history
John Paul II Vatican focus
THE POPE’S deteriorating physical condition has raised concerns as to who, exactly, is now running the Vatican writes Christina Farrell.
Day-to-day decisions are being taken by a core group of senior prelates, but it is Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz – a longtime friend, faithful servant and the Pope’s private secretary for over 40 years who is felt to wield the most influence.
A fellow Pole, Archbishop Dziwisz is deeply attached to John Paul. He cradled the fallen Pope in his hands when he was shot in 1981 and then accompanied him in the ambulance as it sped towards the hospital.
The 65-year-old Dziwisz has spent much of his clerical life working for John Paul and is steadfast in his support. He dismissed earlier calls for the Pope to stand aside, insisting that “many journalists who in the past have written about the Pope’s health are already in heaven”.
Even senior clerics have been admonished by the archbishop – known in the Vatican as “Don Stanislaw” – for their perceived disloyalty.
He has unparalleled access to the Pope’s private thoughts; his commitment is likely to be rewarded with a return to Poland as Archbishop of Krakow.
Cardinal Sodano is, with Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the Pope’s chief allies. Both men, at 77, are past the usual retirement age, but John Paul has kept them inside the inner circle that governs the 3,000strong Vatican machine.
An experienced diplomat, Archbishop Sodano heads the powerful Secretariat of State giving him the authority of a prime minister, second only to the pontiff. He has an important diplomatic role meeting visiting dignitaries.
Italian-born, he is accustomed to the convoluted workings of Italian bureaucracy.
On Sunday, 61-year-old Argentine Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the sostituto whose job it is to attend to the daily operation of the Church, said the Angelus on the steps of St Peter’s. Archbishop Sandri, deputy to Cardinal Sodano, has assumed an increasingly high profile as John Paul’s frailty has become more evident. He has often stepped in to read papal messages or homilies when the Pope has been unable to continue. He was appointed to the Roman Curia in the jubilee year 2000 and was previously Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico.
Of all the powerful cardinals in Rome, it is the German Cardinal Ratzinger who most vividly captures the public imagination. Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger has steered the development of doctrine with the focus on the Catholic Church as the one true Church. Talked of as a possible candidate as an “interim Pope” – his age would indicate a short-term pontificate – Cardinal Ratzinger’s hard-line but elegantly expressed views have earned him the nickname “Panzerkardinal”.
He has launched a series of uncompromising attacks on the perceived “enemies” of the Church, condemning homosexuality, militant Islam and “aggressive secularism”. Where other cardinals appear reluctant to take a stand, Cardinal Ratzinger seizes the initiative, warning against Turkey’s membership of the European Union and campaigning for the recognition of “Christianophobia”.
As Dean of the College of Cardinals he would chair the conclave to elect a new pope.