More reflections on the Pope’s resignation

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The internet has been awash with reactions to the Pope’s resignation. Here are a few. Feel free to add more in the comments!

Brian Flanagan on what Benedict’s resignation says about the nature of the papal office.

Cardinal Theodore McCarick says the Catholic Church is ready for a Third World pope.

Simon Oliver and Samuel Kimbriel of the University of Nottingham discuss the role of the a modern pope.

Tina Beattie joined Austen Ivereigh and Alban McCoy in reflecting on where the Catholic Church has gone wrong.

The New York Times offers an interactive overview of the Cardinal electors.

First Impressions on the Pope’s Resignation

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The following is a reflection on the significance of the Pope’s resignation written by Augusto Zampini, a Catholic priest and a PhD student at the University of Roehampton.

Pope Benedict XVI has resigned as Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church! This is an unprecedented event in the modern Church and worth commenting upon. What follows is not a deep theological analysis, but rather a casual sharing of my first impressions on the breaking news about the resignation which, I argue, is timely and coherent.

Pope benedict XVI Celebrates Mass With Newly Appointed Cardinals At St. Peter's BasilicaThe decision is coherent with Benedict’s experience. Indeed, when John Paul II’s health was gradually deteriorating, Cardinal Ratzinger had a privileged position, right in the centre of Rome. He was the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a powerful institution inside the Church, once known as the Inquisition. From that position, Ratzinger was able to witness how the vacuum of power generated by John Paul II’s Parkinson’s disease was promptly filled by other people. In this particular case, these were not people designated by the universal Church as its leaders, meaning that they were not elected by a Conclave (the body in charge of electing the Pope), nor necessarily guided by the Holy Spirit through episcopal mission (the Bishops in charge of Dioceses all around the world).

As a hierarchical structure, the Church has on its vertex of power the figures of Saint Peter and the Twelve Apostles, whose successors are the Pope and the Bishops. In other words, the Church, as was clarified by the most authoritative constitution concerning the organisation of the Church so far, Lumen Gentium (a constitution issued by an Ecumenical Council, Vatican II, in the 1960s), is governed by a college of Bishops whose head or principal is the Pope. Following the teachings of the Council, the new Code of Canon Law confirmed, in the 1980s, this collegial power. Cannon 330 states that ‘just as by the Lord’s decision Saint Peter and the other Apostles constitute one college, so in a like manner the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, are united among themselves’. When the head of the collegial government is temporarily unwell, the organised structure usually takes over, as in any other large institution. The structure is, in this case, the Vatican Dicasteries (offices) or Roman Curia, whose officers work at the Pope’s headquarters in Rome. However, when the head of the collegial body who governs an organisation is not temporarily but permanently ill, then the leader needs to be replaced, as also happens with other global institutions. While this process is being completed, the collegial body that rules the institution normally appoints somebody in charge. For example, the board of directors of an international company will take over when the CEO has resigned, and if they need more time to find a replacement, the same board will have the imprimatur on the decisions taken by those temporarily in charge. If for some reason this does not happen, and the collegial body remains passive, a fierce struggle for power is likely to be triggered. Consequently, the vacuum of power is filled by those who are more successful at this intense fight for power and control, which is at odds with the Gospel understanding of power as humble service.

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Reminder: Andrew Cooke on ‘What Current Roman Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality Doesn’t Say’

Just a quick reminder that Andrew Cooke, who contributed this piece last week, will be presenting some of his PhD research on homosexuality and Catholicism tomorrow, Wednesday, 13 February, from 6:00 to 7:30 in the Archive Room of the library at the University of Roehampton. All are welcome!

If you have any questions, I can be reached at thomas.lynch@roehampton.ac.uk.

Homosexuality, human rights and the Catholic Church

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Unfortunately, Prof Gerard Loughlin’s DSRC research seminar on ‘Catholic Hate Speech’ has been cancelled. Those interested in his work might want to read his 2006 essay at The Other Journal, ‘Gathered at the Altar: Homosexuality and Human Rights’ and discuss its implications.

Next DSRC Seminar: ‘What Current Roman Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality Doesn’t Say’

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‘What Current Roman Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality Doesn’t Say’

Andrew Cooke (Roehampton0

DSRC seminar 13.2.13 web

13 Feb

6:00-7:30

Archive Room

University Library

Please note that this seminar is taking place at a different time and in a different place.

If you have any questions, please contact Thomas Lynch at thomas.lynch@roehampton.ac.uk.

Andrew Cooke reflects on Jean Porter, Natural Law and Same-sex Marriage

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If same-sex marriage can be natural can it also be doctrinal?

Through this forum Jean Porter has helpfully illuminated some of the principles of a scholastic understanding of marriage. She concludes ‘[i]n my view, a natural law analysis of the purposes of sex and marriage does not foreclose the possibility of recognizing unions which are by their nature non-reproductive, but which allow for the expression of the mutual fidelity and interpersonal love of the partners – indeed, we have good theological as well as natural law reasons for doing just that.’ This conclusion raises a number of interesting questions.

The natural law is not the eternal law of God.[1] Instead, it is participation in the eternal law.[2] Furthermore, it is a participation which must be responsive to the ‘various conditions of life according to places, times, and circumstances.’[3] The natural law is not understood by all with perfect clarity both as a consequence of the fact that as participation in the eternal law it has the divine intellect as its object and also because of the effects of human sin.[4] Hence there is a need formarriage perspicacity when establishing the natural law. Aquinas maintains that the virtue required to oversee the discernment of natural law is justice because he understands that all law ‘is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.’[5] Given the above background, the magisterium, as the teaching office of the church, and doctrine, as the reflective conceptualisation of faith, have a key role to play in ascertaining the natural law. Hence one important question that Jean Porter’s essay raises is: since church teaching as expressed in formal doctrine contains an exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage is there any possibility for development on this issue? Or to express myself more directly: if Jean Porter has made the case for construing same-sex marriage as natural can a similar case be made for construing it as doctrinal?

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Austen Ivereigh and Tina Beattie in the Guardian on Catholicism and Gay Marriage

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Those who have been following our discussion of homosexuality, marriage and Catholicism may be interested in today’s Comment is Free column in the Guardian. Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices and Tina Beattie offer contrasting views on the issue.

Particularly relevant to our earlier discussions is Ivereigh’s description of heterosexual marriage as the ‘gold standard’ of childcare. He writes:

In the new dispensation, why should we much care about marriage? In those countries which have redefined it, fewer people now marry and more divorce: that is bad for society, and for children. The gold standard of childcare (and on this there is a remarkable consensus among psychologists) is that children fare best when raised by their birth parents.

Others – gay couples, maiden aunts, foster parents, single mums – usually offer outstanding love and care, but they cannot provide the structure that is most conducive to a child’s wellbeing and sense of identity. The fact that some gay couples (as do maiden aunts or foster parents) raise children, and many married couples fail to have children, does not detract from the reason why the state promotes marriage – to support and promote that gold standard. It is hard to know why, having severed the link to children, the state has an interest in promoting same-sex relationships but not other kinds of non-marital union.

While the excerpt from Jean Porter’s essay was concerned with natural law, Ivereigh’s comments touch on one of her main points:

Certainly, on any plausible account of the place of sexuality in a mammalian species such as our own, sex will serve a reproductive purpose, but the fact that we are social primates as well as mammals points to a more complex account of the overall purposes of sex. That is to say, we are not only animals, which reproduce sexually, but social animals, for whom sexual exchange and interaction serve to express and cement social and personal bonds – indeed, to forge personal bonds, and hence to some extent and with many qualifications, to shape and to form personal identity.

Ivereigh is reasserting the position that what makes marriage distinct from all other forms of relationships is not ‘sexual exclusivity, sexual difference, lifelong commitment, cohabitation’, but reproduction and the raising of children by their birth parents. The other elements merely foster a stable environment for these more primary functions. His comments only highlight the significance of Porter’s argument. Ivereigh’s argument hinges on the belief that reproduction (or its possibility) is the defining characteristic of marriage. By whittling down the theological justifications behind this position, Porter offers an immanent critique which allows Catholics to be open to same-sex marriage rather than feeling it is being imposed by secular authorities.

Tina Beattie offers a view congruent with Porter’s, one that will be familiar to those of you who follow her work. So I’ll just highlight her conclusion:

I have come to believe that same-sex marriage would be good for society and for the individuals involved.

And I’d like us to get that out of the way and hold this profoundly inegalitarian government to account for its much greater abuses and violations with regard to the destruction of the welfare state and the fabric of care and social responsibility upon which every family – gay or straight – depends for its wellbeing.