Papal ‘Experts’ Kick Into Overdrive

Pope John Paul II has gone to his reward and his Christ-like model of embracing suffering and turning it into a redemptive act will linger.

Unfortunately, so too will the current spate of papal “experts” and pundits who seem to be vying for some kind of inanity prize. If that came off as shrill I apologize, but it’s been a tough couple of weeks.

It isn’t every day you witness the passing of greatness. But ever since the dreadful turn for the worse that the Holy Father took days before his beautiful death, television news of both the broadcast and cable variety turned their expert machines into overdrive.

They seemingly have combed the horizon and brought forth writers, clerics, philosophers and theologians to get in front of a camera and tell the viewing public what every nuance of the Pope’s death means for the current state of the Church and how this Catholic clique will do this and another Catholic clique will do that.

The news media seems to be in full flower and is treating the coming election of a new pope in much the same way they’d treat the election of a president or a prime minister. Adding a particular sting to this commentary are all the Catholic voices on the airways telling viewers things that aren’t necessarily accurate Catholic teaching.

Many of them have given the false impression that a new pope can come into the Vatican and turn the furniture upside down and change anything he wishes via papal fiat. He can’t because the pope cannot teach that which is not true.

We have heard “experts” speculate what might be going on behind the closed blinds of the Pope’s hospital room in Rome as well as what cardinal might be maneuvering within the deepest inner sanctums behind mysterious Vatican walls. The “experts” have led many people to believe that the new pope will be similar to a new CEO, coming in with his own agenda and his own policy changes.

In some respects, these observations remind me of the expertise the news media supplied during the terrible sniper killings around Virginia and Maryland a few years back. I recall one ex-FBI profiler who was constantly on broadcast and cable news outlets informing us that, when the sniper was finally caught, he would probably turn out to be a solitary, white male drifter. Then they caught the sniper: a black male with an accomplice (the latter a teen-age illegal immigrant from Jamaica). So much for the experts.

What we, as Catholics, are supposed to believe is that any pope — good or bad — along the timeline of history is there under the auspices and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But even those popes who were robust sinners and debauched personalities, according to our faith, were not capable of teaching doctrinal error and were in the chair of Peter because of divine, not human, intentions.

The lexicon of the few bad popes reads like the itemized details of a tawdry paperback novel. There were those who purchased, bequeathed, stole and generally abused the papacy with enough avarice, lust and sinful behavior to meet the quota of an army of satyrs for a year. Yet, as we Catholics believe, each of these men was there only because God allowed it and God wanted it that way.

There have been many more good popes than bad popes and we have been particularly blessed with the papacy of John Paul II. Even his detractors cannot deny his faithfulness to God, his goodness and his love for his flock.

Those of us who contemplate the word “great” when we think and talk about John Paul II also believe he has taken the mission of the Church as redesigned through the Second Vatican Council into rarefied air. But when I hear these “experts” talk about the late Pope’s “contradictions,” I feel like tossing my television out the window — probably not a bad idea just on principle.

These “experts” cannot see how Pope John Paul II’s openness and personal style could be reconciled with what they view as “antiquated” and “outmoded” doctrinal teachings, such as the male-only priesthood and the sacramental nature of marriage.

Like all the popes who preceded him and all those who will follow, Pope John Paul II was faithful to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, — just as Jesus promised he, and all the successors of St. Peter, would be.

There was no contradiction whatsoever in John Paul II. He only managed, through his God-given talents of personal charisma, intelligence and gifts as a theologian, to say the same things the Church has always taught. And if people, many Catholics among them, rejected both message and messenger, well, that’s been going on for 2,000 years as well.

Even before the Pope left office on God’s — not an “expert’s” — timetable, we were told how John Paul II should retire, that he obviously could not manage the demands of his office in his degraded state of health, that he could better serve the needs of the Church by letting a younger man take over.

The theological verbiage in response to this expert advice is, “Says who?” The Pope was where he was for as long as he was not because he was following some “expert” advice, but because that was where God had placed him. When the Holy Spirit was finished with him, he was sent back to the home office. John Paul II looked out the window of his apartment, uttered “Amen” and breathed his last. Could anyone have imagined a more fitting ending?

The temptation to rely on our own human resources and mechanisms is not the sole propriety of the secular press. In the late 1950s, after the papacy of Pius XII had stretched nearly two decades — through a period that encompassed the upheaval and devastation of World War II — the College of Cardinals elected an affable, elderly, “safe” Italian bureaucrat to the chair of Peter.

That mild-mannered, status-quo pope turned out to be John XXIII, who ushered in the Second Vatican Council, an event so powerful and momentous that the universal Church is still trying to come to terms with it almost two generations later.

So when I hear the “experts,” pardon the pun, pontificate on what is and what is not going to happen in Rome, and who is and who is not going to be considered for the Chair of Peter, I think of the old line about how one gets a chuckle out of God: Tell him your plans.  

Robert Brennan is a television writer

living in Los Angeles.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy