Friday, March 8, 2013

Electing a Pope, the Apostolic Succession

"Terms such as "primacy" and "jurisdiction" are best avoided when one describes the role of Peter in the New Testament." --UCCB document discussing the tradition and interfaith discussions of Apostolic Succession.

The rumors now are flying about unabated
about the impending election, or apostolic succession of the Pope of the Roman Catholic church. Who cares, anyway?
Well, about 1.3 billion persons world-wide identify themselves as Roman Catholic Christians; they, with the world-wide Orthodox Christian churches, form the single largest group of Christians on the planet.
So like it or not, this is a big story, made bigger by the nearly unheard of retirement of the most previous Roman Catholic Pope, Benedict XVI.
Note: the Orthodox churches, by and large, each have their own prelate, or spiritual leader. Most retain friendly relations with the Vatican; some rest under the larger umbrella of the Vatican herself.
This sudden need to choose a successor of Peter, as the Pope is sometimes called, requires the election of a person believed capable to lead and inspire God's people on earth.
No small job here, the election process is partly driven by tradition, and as much, by a spirit filled, democratic process whereby each person, called an (Elector) Cardinal comes to the Vatican to represent their church members from each part of the world.

Currently the world is divided up into
approximately 115 regions with a Cardinal-Elector to represent the people from each region. As has been mentioned before here at Simple Mind Zen, despite the highly developed infrastructure of the Roman church, its governance is both top-down and bottom-up. This means to say that the people of the Church are both spoken to, instructed from the Vatican as much as they speak and give instructions to the Vatican from each of their respective regions via their Bishops and finally, their Electoral Cardinals, in the case of a Papal (Apostolic) Succession.

This is the process we see now underway. The Elector-Cardinals have, during the past seven to ten days, hurried from around the world to the Vatican so as to be available to represent their regions in the Church as she deliberates the next Pope.

Why does this take so long? Shouldn't they have picked some one by now?
 The process is both democratic and representative; it is also mindful of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. For example, the much loved Pope, John Paul II, wrote that at the start of the process which ultimately elected him, he did not expect to become Pope. And when it occurred that he indeed was elected, he considered the promptings of both the Electors and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit before he accepted the post. A man may refuse this great task, if he feels he is not physically or mentally able to fulfill its mission. The Pontiff must be chosen from among the Elector Cardinals within a conclave per Church rules.

Yet before arriving at this end stage of the process, an important part is that the Elector-Cardinals gather to express on behalf of their respective peoples, the needs and concerns of each representative region. As the world is great and large, the needs of the world-wide Church vary equally so.
It is through these very crucial discussions held at the Vatican that a consensus of priorities emerges; from that the characteristics of the future leader may then be drawn.
At this stage a perspective leader may become more clear in the minds of the Elector-Cardinals; so one or more candidates then appear from among that same group of Elector-Cardinals.

What takes some of the Elector-Cardinals so long to arrive at the Vatican? 

 They are holding up the process and missing some discussions. A good observation!
This is true that their late arrival curtails their full involvement in the agenda setting discussions; however, since the Church is world-wide, she functions under various regional political constraints. In some regions, it is with a dictator; in others the Church functions under communism and in others, there is an absence of the free practice of religion. In these places, it may be more difficult for an Elector-Cardinal to obtain permission of his government to travel to the Vatican, as the Church requires he do.

For example, in the case of the Peoples Republic
of China, and in some other districts, the Communist Party requires both a "official" government selected Church which functions side by side with the Vatican recognized Roman Church. The Vatican led Church is largely suppressed there.

Thus it's an act of diplomacy for those persons recognized by the Vatican, rather than solely by Chinese government to be permitted to travel to the Vatican so as to fulfill their role as representatives of the local peoples. Despite on-going negotiations with that government, China still acts freely to install their own persons in key Church roles, disregarding the lack of recognition for those same persons by the Vatican!

Who from these regions will then attend? The Vatican insists upon its own personnel, their Elector-Cardinals. Ideally the chosen person is acceptable to both the government and to the Vatican. However, said person may or may not be permitted to leave his country to attend the Vatican meetings.
It is now reported that in the Communist nation
of Vietnam, that Elector-Cardinal there has just won permission to attend the proceedings at the Vatican. Once he arrives, it is presumed that process of Apostolic Succession will commence in earnest.

So, finally when all the Elector-Cardinals
are present, as Church rules dictate that they must be, the election may proceed. Remember, this process is lengthy precisely because of the requirement to represent all the peoples of the world-wide church; so the election of a Pope is largely a bottom up process.

Why is it closed to the media and other non-Electors?
It is for the purpose of discussion--of the truest needs and yearnings of the Church herself that the process is closed so as to reduce outside influence. Just as in a corporate personnel meeting or a political caucus, the initial conversations are held privately. Finally, the candidates are considered and the vote occurs; then peoples and regions of the world will have representation and a new spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic church arises with the traditional puff of smoke.

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