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Benedict XVI vs. John Paul II

Over at National Review, Ramesh Ponuru makes a very good point:

Will Saletan has some fun with Catholics who praise Pope John Paul II for continuing to serve as pope while dying (“showing us an example of holy suffering”) and also praise Pope Benedict XVI for resigning (“what amazing humility”). Yet there isn’t really a contradiction. On many occasions people have multiple options that are incompatible with one another and serve as an opportunity to illustrate different virtues. Pope John Paul II showed the world how to bear a cross. He could not simultaneously teach that lesson and bear witness to the fact that nobody is indispensable, that the allegiance of all Catholics must be to Christ and not the pope, that the Church endures as the popes come and go.

It is certainly possible for a faithful Catholic to believe that John Paul II should have handed over the papacy when his health was failing, or that Benedict XVI should not be leaving it now. But there are surely virtues involved in each choice….

  1. Baja

    Exactly the conversation my sister & I had last night. They both teach us important points by the different ways they handled this issue.

  2. Donald Todd

    Speaking as a Catholic, I wasn’t aware that there was a conflict.  Each of these popes did exactly what he was supposed to do given the circumstances of his papacy.  Ad majorem Dei glorium.

  3. KC Mulville

    Not too worried about “conflict.”

    The entire reason why we have moral theory is that difficult moral decisions are never between [good versus evil]. Instead, they’re about choosing the better of two goods or choosing the lesser of two evils. And, even further, they’re about choosing between two goods or two evils when you don’t have any verifiable way to measure.

    As with most moral theories that involve virtues, you try to maximize both. In this case, we have the willingness to endure suffering versus the obligation to fulfill an office.JP2 personified one virtue, Ben16 the other. I seriously doubt that JP2 would have wanted to stay in office if it meant that the church couldn’t function. I also seriously doubt that Ben16 would have resigned for frivolous reasons.

    In both cases, the question was how to balance these virtues, with no way to “prove” one course or the other.

    Chances are, they answered the question by taking it to prayer. Not my will, but Your will be done. (And everyone who prays knows what comes next: “so what exactly did you have in mind here, God?”) I trust both popes’ answer for each.

  4. Devereaux

    Not being a Catholic I’m not sure that I’m qualified to comment. Still, B16 seems much more the humble servant. Holding onto power is usually an act of personal exercise. Even the conviction that no one else is better is the same. B16 got it right.

  5. katievs
    Devereaux: Not being a Catholic I’m not sure that I’m qualified to comment. Still, B16 seems much more the humble servant. Holding onto power is usually an act of personal exercise. Even the conviction that no one else is better is the same. B16 got it right. · 1 minute ago

    One thing I’m pretty certain of is that neither man conceived of the office as power.  Both received it as a beyond-human responsibility and an almost unbearably heavy cross.  

    John Paul’s stayed out of  sense of calling; Benedict is leaving out of a sense of duty.  

    Each displays both objective virtue, the amazing range of the office, and his own personality in his choice.

    Both give faithful Catholics deep reasons for love and gratitude.

  6. Ansonia

    I’m not a Catholic, but I’m wondering this : wasn’t Pope John Paul II able to stay on, without worrying that in his weakened condition he would be misrepresented, in part because he had the help of Cardinal Ratzinger ? I imagine they both made the best decision for the Church under their different circumstances.

  7. Pseudodionysius
    Ansonia: I’m not a Catholic, but I’m wondering this : wasn’t Pope John Paul II able to stay on, without worrying that in his weakened condition he would be misrepresented, in part because he had the help of Cardinal Ratzinger ? I imagine they both made the best decision for the Church under their different circumstances. · 31 minutes ago

    Edited 28 minutes ago

    Very good catch.

  8. Peter Robinson
    C
    Ansonia: I’m not a Catholic, but I’m wondering this : wasn’t Pope John Paul II able to stay on, without worrying that in his weakened condition he would be misrepresented, in part because he had the help of Cardinal Ratzinger ? I imagine they both made the best decision for the Church under their different circumstances. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    This thought had never crossed my mind, Ansonia, but it makes one whole heck of a lot of sense.  John Paul II had Cardinal Ratzinger.  As far as I’m aware, Benedict XVI has no one on whom he, in turn, can so implicitly rely–no one who can be to him what he was to John Paul II.

    Truly insightful, Ansonia.

  9. Pseudodionysius
    Peter Robinson

    Ansonia: I’m not a Catholic, but I’m wondering this : wasn’t Pope John Paul II able to stay on, without worrying that in his weakened condition he would be misrepresented, in part because he had the help of Cardinal Ratzinger ? I imagine they both made the best decision for the Church under their different circumstances. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    This thought had never crossed my mind, Ansonia, but it makes one whole heck of a lot of sense.  John Paul II had Cardinal Ratzinger.  As far as I’m aware, Benedict XVI has no one on whom he, in turn, can so implicitly rely–no one who can be to him what he was to John Paul II.

    Truly insightful, Ansonia. · 6 minutes ago

    He had American Cardinal Levada, who was certainly not a theologian of the calibre of Pope Benedict XVI and now Bishop Muller of Regensburg diocese (cue the irony violins). 

  10. Crow

    Will Saletan probably hasn’t read Churchill’s brilliant essay ‘On Consistency in Politics’, but if he had he might discover that sometimes an inconsistency on the surface or over tactics obscures a deeper consistency in purpose over time. That purpose here being the health of the institution, and responding appropriately to the call of the Holy Spirit.

    Or, as Montaigne (whom I’m also fairly certain Saletan hasn’t bothered to spend any time reading–it takes so very little to become a credentialed journalist nowadays) brilliantly wrote, ‘by diverse means we arrive at the same end’. What is right for the Church and for their office is the end that both men are aiming at, I suspect. 

  11. Ansonia

    Pseudodionysius and Mr Robinson, thank you very much.