Francis Fever

I love Papa Francesco

It could be my misanthropic side or maybe I’ve just got a very short attention span or perhaps a combination of the two, means that I’m hoping that Francis fever will shortly subside, once the inauguration Mass has taken place.

That’s not to in any way question our new Holy Father, or throw any of his qualities into doubt, far from it, the Conclave played a blinder with that googlie (indulge me a little Bernard moment to mix my sporting metaphors here) but the constant focus upon Pope Francis, the style of his papacy and his personal gracious humility and simplicity, could I think, become counterproductive.

It’s marvellous that here we have a new Pope who has really got the media buzzing, proving that Catholicism is not as irrelevant as they would have us believe and that coverage has been incredibly positive, aside from one poorly researched attempted hatchet job from the usual suspect, the Guardian, but human nature loves nothing better than to build people up, if only to knock them down again, ably aided and abetted by the media.

My concern is that this important theme of poverty could swiftly start to become jaded and has the capacity to be caricatured and used as a weapon against the Holy Father, when and if, he does something wholly in keeping with his vocation, by a media who may not fully understand the implications of the office and responsibilities of the Vicar of Christ. Such as, for example, when he travels. Fr Ray Blake highlights an essential point, namely in order to be loyal sons and daughters of the Church we really need to get to grips with and actually understand what is meant by poverty. Anyone who thinks that the Vatican museums or Roman churches can or should be sold off to the highest bidder needs a reality check.

I cannot help but think that the very last thing Pope Francis wants is to be revered as some sort of living saint for the fact that he lives out the values of the Gospel and of his religious order. Whilst it’s entirely laudable that he does so, he is not the only priest or bishop to follow in the footsteps of Christ in this way. I know at least one UK diocesan bishop who drives about in an average non descript car, has very little in the way of personal staff and goes about with absolutely no pomp and ceremony whatsoever. A parish volunteer once related to me about how they once told a man that he couldn’t use a particular space in the church car park, because it was reserved for the bishop who was coming to do confirmations, whereupon the response was a fairly nonplussed, ‘I am actually the bishop’ much to the poor man’s mortification! He had been expecting a grand personage in a smart vehicle, not a low-key looking priest.

Pope Francis may well be on his way to sainthood, as are hopefully all of us, but he is not there yet and the very reason that he took us all by surprise is precisely because he had kept an extraordinarily low profile in the run-up to the conclave, he doesn’t do self-promotion and thus had fallen off everybody’s radar, including the most seasoned vaticanisti. This self-effacing man, whilst indicating that his papacy will be very different in style, does not want to be admired, far from it, but to lead us to Christ. The theme could wear thin very quickly not to mention backfire, if it is over-egged or swift conclusions drawn and I can’t help but wonder how soon we may see the satirists draw unkind Uriah Heep portraits. My mind drifted back to how Fluck and Law of Spitting Image portrayed Pope John Paull II, with a shudder.

Pope Benedict XVI was the one who laid the groundwork in terms of demystifying the papacy, not least by resigning it. His several books that were written in his own name, alongside his prolonged interview with Peter Seewald in Light of the World, in which he let people into his own personal reflections, showed, that in his words upon his election in 2005, that he was ‘a simple worker in the vinyard of the Lord’. Pope Francis seems to have the ability to breathe new life into the Church, he seems to be the right man at the right moment, he could do for the Papacy what Princess Diana did for the Royals, not forgetting that Diana’s charism with the poor and the sick was, however inadvertently, following in Christ’s footsteps, Francis is clearly able to speak from the heart, off the cuff, to rip up formal protocols and win hearts and minds for Christ, but he may not have been able to do so, if Benedict had not already shown the way. Pope Francis is very much what the church is aching for, but the likes of Cardinal Mahoney ought to remember that it was thanks to the Emeritus Pope, that this has been made possible. If we are to remember that the papacy is not a personality cult, then we also need to remember to keep some of our admiration and respect in proportion, before going overboard about a people’s pope. I think Pope Francis will do great things for us, but only if we give him the space, instead of projecting our own interpretation onto him.

As for the matters liturgical, I hate to rain on Rorate Caeli’s parade, but it seems to me, they are forgetting one vitally important point here, in that like everybody else, the Pope is a servant of the liturgy. I know liturgy matters, I’m not a traditionalist, but equally I appreciate the importance of the liturgy in orientating us towards Christ and subjugating our will to His. Liturgy is not about how we “feel” and what gives us the warm and fuzzies, but worshiping God as he has instructed us to do so , in a way that is noble, reverent, respectful, transcendent and mysterious. I guess I’m torn on this, because whilst appreciating the desire for a simpler style, there is a part of me that thinks, look, the Vatican has all these wonderful vestments in its various wardrobes, they aren’t going to sell them, go on, they might as well use the sparkly threads every once in a while. The whole thing is very hard to get right. One doesn’t want vestments that are just so ornate and dazzlingly beautiful that they detract from what’s going on in the Mass, equally we don’t want vomit inducing ’70s lairy florescent vulgar murals, neither does one want a priest that appears almost liturgically naked, his very simplicity being a statement and thus a distraction. The mystery and nobility needs to be retained, but I’m absolutely no expert, I’ve no idea how. It would clearly be a shame if Benedict’s reforms went by the wayside, his papacy was about making sure that the entire Church faced in the same direction, towards God (one of the reasons I’m all in favour of ad orientem) and Pope Francis will continue what Benedict did for the liturgy, in terms of prayer and action.

On the subject on nobility, though it’s as the result of a happy accident, I think we also do need to remember that the Pope is also the Head of State (albeit small), a role which enables the Holy See to achieve a vast amount in terms of international relations and behind-the-scenes negotiations and peace agreements so it is only right and proper that a certain respect is accorded to him in this office. Back to the unprepossessing bishops that I can think of, I think we need to remember that even though one may live simply and reflect this in dress or manner of transport, the dignity of office, the fact that a bishop, cardinal or Pope is one of Peter’s apostles, should never ever be forgotten. I know Anglicans who have often been flummoxed by this, forgetting that an appearance can often belie the office. One of the interesting contrasts I find between the Anglican and Catholic bishops I know, is that the Anglicans are all about the ecclesial purple and pectoral crosses and piping, the Catholic Bishops tend to be a lot more discreet in their dress, often leading to others perhaps treating them with inappropriate informality and yet Catholic bishops hold infinitely more power over their diocese than their Anglican counterparts. The commentators on Rorate Caeli need to remember exactly who they are talking about and the allegiance which is owed to him, Pope Francis has the keys of St Peter, the power to bind and lose.

None of this is to diss our new pontiff, but more to add a note of caution. Yes, we should be delighted that so far, the signs are looking promising, but Joseph Shaw has wise words on Papolatry and prudence. I can see attacks on the Church, on our new Holy Father really intensifying in the near future, from all quarters, including from within, as we have already seen. Whilst I take CS Lewis’ guidance to heart about the equal and opposite errors with regards to thinking about the devil, it seems to me that the reaction, the anger, whether that be from Rorate Caeli, the liberal press or hostile Anglicans, seems to flow from one cause. We have a great new Pope, who promises so much in terms of the New Evangelisation and the reinvigoration of the church. One who is going to re-sanctify the church and bring Christ to the world, especially the poor, sick, the needy, the elderly and the unborn in the twenty-first century. Not only that, technically we have TWO Popes, no matter how bizarre that seems. Not one pope, but two. One who will be actively leading us in prayer and holiness and another former pope, who will be storming the heavens on behalf of the church, with a life of prayer and penance. Think about that for a moment. I said in a previous post that we had two-for the-price of one in Pope Francis, with the merger of the Jesuit and Franciscan. Actually we have that in an actual physical sense, two popes together working for the church although in very different ways. One public and one private. They are even meeting privately next week, in order that Benedict may pass on some of his wisdom and experience to help Pope Francis in some of the difficult decisions. This is unprecedented stuff.

The power of two extraordinarily holy, deeply spiritual and wise men, leading the faithful in prayer. It can be no surprise that someone is angry, someone is furious, whenever great good happens, retaliation always occurs. Someone else has got Francis fever, which is why we need to all be on guard.

HeelandtheSerpentB[1]

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************

(Oh and as aside, to the critics who are claiming that the Church’s teaching on sexuality and priestly celibacy is misguided because it’s difficult but who are lauding the Pope’s zeal for the poor. The response to which is doing what is right, is not always the same as what is easy. I wonder what they would make of being informed that technically they should be giving at least 10% of their income away to charity. That’s not easy either, especially in these troubled times, but does that mean that it’s equally quite so misguided and wrong? If chastity and celibacy are wrong because they are allegedly difficult and challenging then why doesn’t giving a significant proportion of your income away, fall into the same category?)

The Cardinals and reverse psychology

Papal Conclave-005

The words of the Secretariat of State seem particularly prescient in the light of the damaging allegations that have surfaced regarding Cardinal Keith O’Brien in this morning’s Guardian.

Once again the media seem to be disregarding the rules surrounding natural justice and due process that would be followed in any criminal court, namely a presumption of innocence until proof to the contrary, and are commenting upon these allegations as those they were established fact, with the usual suspects rubbing their hands in glee, not least those who thought Cardinal O’Brien’s Bigot of the Year award, fitting.

With regards to the allegations, the following questions present themselves:

  • Why are they only being made now? If the concern has to do with whether or not Cardinal O’Brien should be allowed to vote in the Conclave, why given the age of the alleged incidents, did the accusers not make known their concerns prior to the conclave of 2005, or even earlier in 2001, when it was announced that O’Brien would be elected to the college of cardinals?
  • Do the comments surrounding priestly celibacy have anything to do with this not least in terms of the media exposure of Cardinal O’Brien of late? Does Cardinal O’Brien’s stance on gay marriage have any part to play on behalf of those who would seek to expose or out him? It ties into the first point – the timing seems peculiar.
  • Who leaked the nuncio’s emails to the Guardian and why?
  • If these allegations do turn out to be sadly true, it would not appear that any criminal offence has been committed. These would appear to be consenting adults – there are no accusations of assault. Surely this would be an internal church matter and not within the remit of secular authority? Cardinal O’Brien is due to retire in a month’s time, what action are the priests expecting the church to take? An individual’s sexuality should have no bearing when it comes to prayerfully discerning whom the Holy Spirit might be guiding into the Chair of St Peter. It sets a very dangerous precedent to assume that clerics are guilty of any allegations without due process being followed and neither is it for the secular world to interfere in the internal processes of the church. So far, we have had one side of the story and it would seem very much as though Cardinal O’Brien is subject to trial by media.

All of which brings me neatly onto Cardinal Mahony, who due to his mishandling of priests guilty of sexual abuse in his diocese, is also subject to similar calls to stay away from the conclave. Let’s be clear. Cardinal Mahony, though guilty of severe negligence is not a pedophile or abuser himself. It’s hard to get one’s head around why he didn’t report these abhorrent crimes to the police, or at the very least lock the perpetrators up in a remote monastery somewhere, but as has been documented, times were different then. The psychology of abusers was not understood in the same way, it was genuinely believed that therapy could cure a disordered sexuality, and the abusers’ professions of repentance were taken at face value.

There’s a whole essay into the factors contributing to the abuse that took place and its subsequent cover-up by local diocesan bishops and parallels to be drawn with what happened in other non-Church institutions such as for example the BBC, but it isn’t fair to imply, nor is there evidence to suggest, that those who did cover-up the scandal, did so because they didn’t care about the victims or because they thought that abusers were likely to re-offend and simply didn’t care, what enquiry after enquiry has demonstrated is that they were misdirected out of love for the church and actually ignored the regulations that were already in place which directed bishops to report these crimes to the police. There is no basis for the claim that various bishops simply didn’t care – the credible answer is, that as prelates such as Mahoney have testified, they simply didn’t get it.

Does that mean he should be disbarred from voting in the conclave to satisfy the demands of a baying press? I would posit that a Cardinal who has personally faced the scandal of clerical sex abuse and who has faced widespread criticism and rebuke not only from the outside world, but also from his peers, would be ideally placed to prayerfully reflect upon who should succeed Pope Benedict and which candidate may possess the necessary qualities. Cardinal Mahony indisputably knows the enormity of the scandal and the huge repercussions for those who may get it wrong. There can be no doubt that he does now understand the seriousness of it all. Perhaps a good comparison would be that of the airline industry? Whenever a pilot has been implicated as being at fault in a serious incident, such as the Kegworth disaster in 1989, British Airways always rush to offer that pilot a job, the First Officer in that tragic crash is now a serving Captain with them – the rationale being that they will never make that mistake again.

Cardinal Mahony may well have made a grievous mistake, one for which he has been disciplined by his successor, but that is no reason to doubt his judgement or ability to vote in the conclave. He may well be better placed than many of the others and have a valuable insight into the motivations and catastrophic failures.

Ultimately whether either of the cardinals attend is a matter for them, their consciences and their fellow peers. It is not for the media or general public to judge and were the Vatican to announce that they were succumbing to public pressure and the cardinals disbarred from voting, this would set a very dangerous precedent, besides which no-one has the authority to prevent their attendance. Only they can recuse themselves. No-one can make judgements about others’ hearts. O’Brien may well be innocent, only time will tell.

In the meantime, anyone wishing the cardinals not to exercise their rights, ought to learn the basics of reverse psychology. The louder the calls for non-participation, the greater the guarantee and likelihood that both Cardinal O’Brien and Cardinal Mahony, will attend, and no-one could blame them for doing so.

Beyond Benedict

papal seal

I think that I’m in agreement with Fr Ray’s conceit that our outgoing Pope has left us a legacy of concepts, as follows:

  • the idea that there is a correct and incorrect interpretation of Vatican II,

  • he has gone along way to reconciling the Church’s present to its past, Summorum Pontificum is an important part of this

  • he has gone along to dismantling the political notions of left and right, liberal and conservative (the media hasn’t caught on to this yet) and restoring the notion of Catholic orthodoxy.

  • he has re-presented the idea that Pope is the Bishop of Rome – certainly first amongst equals – (I’ll explore this at a later stage but I think this important).

  • that “Unity” in terms of ecumenism is about looking to those who share (substantially) the catholic faith – hence Ordinariates and looking towards the Orthodox

It’s certainly true that Joseph Ratzinger has done much to reinforce the concept that biblical Christianity does not fit neatly into the left/right praxis of Western democracy, which is why whilst few media commentators have been ignorant enough to label him as a right-wing or Republican type, neither have they picked up on many of his speeches which have a distinctly left-wing bent. This speech on selfish economic models and the value of the family farm was never widely disseminated for example, and neither was his concept of the ecology of mankind, reclaiming territory from the Greens, ever explored nor were his environmentally friendly credentials ever acknowledged or welcomed by the Green party, only being belatedly dredged up by the Guardian who were trying to find something positive to say to balance out their one-sided coverage of the papal resignation which would fit in with their agenda. It begs the question as to when the watermelons are going to cotton on to the environmental effects of their contraceptive comfort blanket.

But Fr Ray, is correct in his identification that Benedict, like his predecessor, has left us a variety of concepts which now need practical application. In both John Paul II and Benedict XVI we have had two towering intellectual giants, two great teaching popes who were both members and architects of the Second Vatican Council, who both understood what the reforms were supposed to achieve, watched their misapplication with dismay and who both unpicked, communicated and attempted to sow the seeds of the genuine spirit and renewal of the church that Vatican II was supposed to engender. Both John Paul II and Benedict left behind great gifts to the church in terms of their theological and academic writings – notably John Paul II’s theology of the body, which will continue to be studied and relevant for many generations to come, and Joseph Ratzinger’s vast body of literary contributions, apostolic letters and speeches out of which it is difficult to chose any of being of most merit, so consistently high is the quality, but my money is on Deus Caritus Est and his biographies of Jesus, which was groundbreaking in that a Pope made complex theological concepts and the historicity of the gospels accessible to the general public for the first time in modern history.

So what next? Is the Pope one of the last intellectuals and is this really such a bad thing? It’s fair to say that whoever is chosen, they are hardly going to be a dullard in the cerebral stakes, given that canon law proscribes that all bishops must either have a doctorate or a licentiate (i.e. a lesser degree than a doctorate but a qualification that enables them to teach in seminaries). The unfortunately titled piece on Catholic Light, (Does the Pope have an S.T.D) gives a comprehensive summary of cardinals’ degrees.

But all Catholics need to be wary of the cult of the intellect, which can lead us astray in terms of admiring people or wishing to elevate them on the basis of intellect alone. Whilst it is vital that those in positions of leadership must have a thorough formation, I don’t think we can discount candidates on the basis that they don’t possess the extraordinary intellectual abilities and gifts of the previous two popes, which were unique and rare gifts. How many people can really count themselves in the same intellectual league as Karol Wojtyla or Joseph Ratzinger? St Peter wasn’t to be found earnestly studying the laws in minute detail in the synagogue though I think we can safely assume that he knew them well. Being an intellectual powerhouse is no guarantee of spiritual greatness or a burning and passionate desire to spread the good news and safely lead the flock. Being in possession of a great intellect must be tempered with a corresponding humility otherwise the gift takes on a destructive nature. Give me the humble priest who tends to the sick, who feeds the hungry and homeless, comforts the distressed, fights for the oppressed and walks with the outcast as opposed to the remote bookish intellect any day. Some of the most inspirational Catholics in my daily life are not those with the highfaluting terminology, but those who witness simply through their daily lives and everyday words of wisdom and encouragement.

We have been incredibly fortunate in that we’ve had two popes who have bequeathed us so much in terms of intellectual wisdom and insight, my feeling is that it’s now time to pause, take stock, we have to digest and now apply the messages and teachings of our two previous Popes. I think we need some intellectual breathing space, in which we can begin to absorb and apply what we have learnt.

The new pope, whoever it might be, needs to hopefully have something of the showmanship of Karol Wojtyla intermingled with the thoughtfulness and radicalism of Pope Benedict XVI. He must continue to reform the Vatican in terms of how it communicates with the outside world, the Pope’s twitter account has been an excellent start as has the engagement with Catholic bloggers and the redesign of the Vatican portal but these are cosmetic changes, there needs to be a concerted attempt to ensure that it uses the new tools at its disposal for the New Evangelisation. The new pontiff must also possess the courage and vision to be able to give the Curia a red-slippered kick up the backside, it would appear that it needs root and branch reform to bring its admin processes into the twenty-first century and it’s staff need to be brought into line – there should be no time for petty factionalisms and jealousy. Though whoever is appointed will undoubtedly possess intellect, it will not need to be the defining quality of this new papacy. We need, for want of a better word, an applicator and enforcer, someone who will widely disseminate, reinforce and apply the work of the past pontificates.

It’s a shame that due to the nature of global politics that we are unlikely to see Cardinal Dolan (although never say never, the frontrunners in a conclave almost never emerge as the successor), the world is not ready for an American pope and it is unlikely that we will see one for as long as the USA remains as a (albeit declining) global superpower – it would not be good to have a Vatican that Americans could claim as being theirs. Besides which America needs Cardinal Dolan, though no-one will be more delighted than me if I am proven wrong in a few weeks time and I am in sympathy with Fr Lucie-Smith, nationality should not disbar an otherwise ideal candidate. I’m nurturing outrageous secret fantasies, given that the Pope doesn’t technically need to be from among the college of Cardinals, about how wonderful it would be if the Holy Spirit were to whisper the Word on Fire amongst the cardinals in the conclave. Or what if our new Bishop of Portsmouth or Shrewsbury were to have the fastest promotion in ecclesial history?!

At this moment in time, regardless of whether or not he is our last pope (the evidence would indicate otherwise), the successor of Peter does undoubtedly need to feed his flock during a period of transition and flux, which is seeing an end to a society based upon Christian values and ideals. Now is a time to put the words and the intellect of others into action.

Benedict’s babes

Papa Benedict

Like everyone else, I’m still reeling from this morning’s shock announcement.

Whereas many Catholics of my age would perhaps describe themselves as members of the JPII generation, my family are all definitely Benedict’s babes. His was the pontificate under which not only I returned to the faith, but his apostolic letter of 2009, Anglicanorum Coetibus, issued incidentally on the day I was expecting Robin and I’s first biological child, was one of the key pieces of the interlocking puzzle pieces that formed the arrow signposting Rome, which eventually led him home.

Others will write the erudite hagiographies, my feelings are those of sadness, admiration and anxiety.I think there is genuine reason to believe that the Pope’s health has taken a significant turn for the worse. I was struck by his frailty this morning, both his general demeanour and tone of voice seemed diminished, he seemed cowed under the weight of a burden. The timing of this announcement is highly unusual, coming just before the major event of the Liturgical Year and perhaps significantly, on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and the world day of prayer for the sick. I don’t think we can discount the fact that the Year of Faith, an initiative instituted by His Holiness, is not even half-way over. Timing wise, October would seem more opportune, when there is not that much happening liturgically speaking. Though our Holy Father is not one for vanity, eschewing the showmanship of his predecessor, surely it would have made more sense for him to have exited on a high, with renewed enthusiasm amongst the faithful for the New Evangelisation? One cannot help but wonder whether or not Benedict is facing a potentially catastrophic health difficulty? There can be no doubt that this was a decision of the utmost gravity, Scott Hahn’s observations on Benedict’s repeated visits to the grave of Pope Celestine V, were not just symbolic clues (I’m personally wary of the Dan Brown nature of such claims) prefiguring today’s announcement, but Benedict reaching out to his predecessor and asking for his intercession and guidance if and when the time came.

Though Pope Benedict is not deceased and thus obituaries or reviews of his papacy seem premature, it is likely that there will be no more public appearances of this great man, he will retreat into the solitutde that he craved following the death of John Paul II, when he thought his period of service might well be drawing to its close. Few will begrudge him his well earned retirement, but many will miss his presence and not least the direction in which he seemed to be leading the liturgy, it was becoming increasingly clear which way his preferences lay.

The Pope’s visit to the UK, culminating in a magnificent, beautiful and reverent Mass at Cofton Park, paved the way for the then forthcoming new translation of the Mass and the liturgical renewal, the fruits of which are now becoming apparent. Let us hope that the liturgical reform that he directed and the Renaissance of the Old Rite which he allowed to flourish, is not stopped in its tracks and that his successor can exercise similar generosity.

I hope history will be kind to Pope Benedict XVI, it is far too early to assess what impact his pontificate will have, but for me the hallmarks of his papacy have been generosity, (Anglicanorum Coetibus and Summorum Pontificorum), wisdom – three must-read encyclicals, Deus Caritus Est, Spe Salvi and Caritas in Veritate which offer a blueprint for Christian living and a response to the challenges of unchecked and rampant capitalism, and a deep compassion and humility – of which today’s announcement was the embodiment.

The great tragedy of his papacy is that it has been overshadowed by the child abuse crisis, one not of his making and which ironically he did the most to address. What has failed to capture the media’s imagination is the amount of times that the Pope has spoken about the injustice of poverty, the plight of the poor and the starving, denouncing the West’s failure to get to grips with these issues on several occasions. He has, for the most part, been silent about the traditional hot-button issues regarding sexuality, where he has spoken it has simply been to reiterate Church teaching, such pronouncements being seized upon, blown out of all proportion and quoted out of context by the usual suspects in the mainstream media.

For me, the high points, alongside the obvious UK visit and Anglicanorum Coetibus, were his visit to Benin and his visit back to his home country of Germany where he blew the German Parliament away with a lesson in Natural Law. His interview with Peter Seewald in Light of the World, the longest and most in-depth interview ever given by a Pope to a journalist, revealed the academic, deeply thoughtful and compassionate Pope, whose every word was carefully measured and yet who still retained, what Bishop Kelly today described as an “undergraduate humour”.

The current media climate feels similar to that surrounding the run up to the Papal visit, all the old prejudices and canards about the Catholic Church are being once again wheeled out, with dismaying ignorant puerile articles which seem to express surprise that the Pope was indeed a Catholic and hope that the next one will have more sense. We have the same ageing suspects making their appearances in the media with their tired old tropes and one hopes that the press will behave more responsibly than in 2010 which risked creating a dangerous climate of hostility and hatred against Catholics which could easily have turned into violence. Though Johann Hari is now silenced, no doubt other young ingenues will be lining up to implore Catholics to elect Lady Gaga as Pope as the only way to resuscitate our allegedly ailing, misogynistic and sex obsessed church, though those people who are obsessed with Catholic teaching on sexuality tend not to be the active members of the faith. That said the media does seem to have softened slightly in its attitude towards him – his personal holiness, authenticity, integrity and flawless reasoning and logic shining like a beacon in contrast to the slippery slime and murky filth that clings to most prominent contemporary politicians. It’s hard to imagine Pontifex engaged in petty Twitter squabbles or employing smear tactics, he leads by example with short messages proclaiming Christ’s message of love and hope.

I had already been planning to read Joseph Ratzinger’s three biographies of Jesus as part of my Lenten efforts, I will do so now with renewed vigour intermingled with sadness that such a towering intellect will no longer be the Vicar of Christ. His loss is palpable and we can only pray that the Holy Spirit gives us an equally worthy and magnificent successor.

Pope Benedict began his papacy with the epithet of God’s Rottweiler. He leaves us as a trusty German Shepherd. For most of my formative and adult years, John Paul II was sadly a shell of man, someone to whom it was difficult to relate – he went from being the movie star caricature of Spitting Image, to an ailing old man who seemed to have lost most of his faculties overnight and so for me, Pope Benedict feels like the only Pope I have ever really ‘known’ and certainly loved. It is a matter of deep sadness and disappointment that his papacy will not see the ordination of my husband, but it is his papacy that has brought us both back home, it is his papacy that has reinforced the timeless truth of the universal church and that has sown the seeds for a fuller and more deeper appreciation of our rich cultural heritage as Catholics, and for that I will always be profoundly and immeasurably grateful.

God Bless you Holy Father and thank you. Ora pro nobis.