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John Paul II’s personalism created the environment in which the Synod could happen? October 7, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, different religion, episcopate, error, foolishness, General Catholic, Papa, Revolution, scandals, secularism, Society, the struggle for the Church.

I found this particular comment at What’s Up With The Synod really important.  Below, Hilary White corresponds with an unnamed Vatican reporter.  This reporter looks back at the enormous degree to which John Paul II, in his incredibly long pontificate, shaped perceptions of the papacy and greatly changed people’s understandings of what constituted “normal” papal behavior.  Even more, he established – deliberately or not – an enormous cult of personality that still infects many soul’s attitudes towards the papacy today.  This almost obsessive obeisance towards the reigning pontiff is something I call hyper-montanism, an almost obsessive obeisance towards the papacy and a willingness to explain away or somehow justify even the most harmful, bizarre papal actions.

The quote:

A Vatican contact writes:

Nota bene: Watch how the Synod is being orchestrated. First, there is a huge emphasis on unity and consensus. This was a theme hit upon over and over during the Pope’s address and during the interventions of Forte, Baldisseri and others. [and was the vehicle by which acceptance of problematic, practically erroneous statements in documents of Vatican II was achieved.  Opposing the documents was “divisive” and was seen as standing in opposition to Pope Paul VI, which no prelate wanted to be seen as doing. Voila – Guadium Et Spes]

The message to the Fathers is clear: Don’t be divisive. Of course, as we all know, divisive only works one way….

Second, they are genuinely worried. They are afraid the Fathers might actually produce a strong, Catholic statement. That’s why they are keeping everything in the hands of the administration, and any statement of the Synod qua Synod will be strictly controlled. [Are they really worried? Or did they simply learn their lesson the last time – this time, no fooling around, don’t even give any opposition a chance to make some impact, simply put everyone but a small cabal around Pope Francis out of the picture, in a good authoritarian way]

The other thing they are doing is setting it up so that everything depends on the Pope. This is another theme that is being reinforced in most of the statements.

“The Pope is the guarantor of orthodoxy and union.” They are setting up the most papalist Synod in centuries… But it is not ultramontane papalism, but pure papal positivism, the fruits of the JP2 emphasis on the personality of the Pope. Back in the day, John Paul set the Pope over against the Synod, an external ‘check’ in case they went too far.

Now, Pope Francis is making himself the Synod..

Back when JPII was pope, his papal positivism/personalism was viewed by many conservativish Catholics as a good thing, since it was fairly frequently used as a check on modernist ambitions in the Church (or at least overt modernist moves……underground, the Revolution continued its advance by consolidating the gains it had made ’58-’78).  On a strict level of personality, JPII was a very charismatic guy, and a lot of people were drawn to that.  Assisi in ’86 and some subsequent developments shook a lot of pious soul’s confidence in JPII (which confidence never really recovered), but for the rank and file, he moved an ancient institution into the media age.  Papal positivists were fine with that, especially since the pope seemed to be more conservative, in their eyes, than not.

So JPII managed to institutionalize in the Church a radical new concept of papacy, one deeply attached to the personality of the Pope and, even more, his media image.  Most conservative neo-Cats were perfectly fine with that, but many trads were not, and for just the reasons we see playing out in this current, very much different pontificate: by turning the holy office of the papacy, the “sweet Christ on earth,” into a media-driven, image conscious personality cult, it was readily apparent that should a different kind of pope come to power, he could use this very much changed understanding of the Chair of Peter for nefarious ends.  Of course, only those crazed rad trads with their delusions of persecution and constant worry over the future (indicative of a severe lack of faith, surely) had such problems – everyone else just basked in the glory of the new positivist, personalist pope, and enjoyed the wild ride.

But now we see where such a vastly changed institution of the papacy can lead us: to a Church virtually defenseless against the unthinkable, a really, really bad pope.  Back in the Medieval or Renaissance times, there were natural checks on the damage a really, really bad pope could do, since the office had not been turned into a three ring media circus and personality cult.  Since a vast misunderstanding of Vatican I has been promulgated in the Church (partly by the popes themselves, at times), and especially since the positivist/personalist approach of JPII, all those natural checks have been stripped away.  The vast majority of the most committed Catholics now stand defenseless before even the most tragically egregious Pope,  as psychologically unprepared to oppose his excesses or deviations from the Magisterium as they are to leave the Faith themselves, because to them, the Pope = the Faith.  Which view is entirely understandable, but I hope we can see now that when taken to extremis, to justify even the most inexplicable or openly destructive behavior, that kind of blind obeisance should have some limits.  The Faith, the Truth, must come first.

But if you can’t trust the Pope, who can you trust?  It’s an extremely dangerous game, I know.  There is an enormous temptation to protestantize and arrogate to ourselves determinations regarding what is Catholic, what is the Magisterium.  But to me, that’s what books, especially good, old, out of print books, are for. Even more, we’re not talking about subtle points of Trinitarian theology or something like that – we’re talking about a full-on, open assault on the entire moral edifice of the Church’s Doctrine.  The attack is occurring in full view during broad daylight.  So while the danger inherent in opposition to a papacy apparently out of control is grave, in this case, the nature and gravity of the attacks are such that they merit – they require – a response.  We simply cannot hope that things will work out.  The spade must be called a spade.

Or, that’s my rationalization for it, anyway.




1. tg - October 7, 2015

Good post and agree with you. I personally don’t like the terms Holy Father and Supreme Pontiff (in a movie about Nero he was called that so must be a term Roman emperors used.) I have to admit I don’t like those terms since PF became pope.

Lynne - October 7, 2015

Both of those titles are extremely old. Google Supreme Pontiff and look at wikipedia. Movies get things wrong all the time.

2. richardmalcolm1564 - October 7, 2015

Hello Tantum,

I think there’s something to that, alas.

BTW, while you’re at it, might you spare a mention for a tragedy this morning at one of America’s most prominent traditional parishes? The Shrine of Christ the King, the North American headquarters of the Institute of Christ the King, burned down this morning: http://badgercatholic.blogspot.com/2015/10/devastating-fire-rips-through-icksp.html

Apparently no one was injured, and the Blessed Sacrament and the statue of the Infant King were saved by the clergy. So it could have been worse.

3. richardmalcolm1564 - October 7, 2015

P.S. I don’t think it;s fair to blame this ultra-ultramontanism all on John Paul II – it’s been building for a while, ever since the 19th century (and yes, Vatican I) – even Leo XIII probably has to take some blame for his (wonderful) encyclical cottage industry, and building up through Pius XII’s canary. But certainly John Paul II took it to entirely new levels.

And conservative ultramontanists now find themselves hoist by their own petard,

Tantumblogo - October 7, 2015

That’s a good point. I did refer back to Vatican I, and I think the tendency certainly predates that. Certainly it was building throughout the 20th century, and I should have made that clear. I agree that JPII did take it to a whole nuther level, however.

richardmalcolm1564 - October 7, 2015

I’d attribute Pope John Paul II’s cult of personality to four causes, working on top of the building ultramontanism and papal centralization that had been mounting for over a century:

1) Karol Wojtyla’s enormous personal charisma, something that had not really been seen before in a modern pope – not even John XXIIII;

2) Modern mass media, which provided unprecedented reach and force in transmitting that same charisma to Catholics around the world;

3) John Paul II’s conscious decision to make outreach through personal pilgrimages, writings and media appearances the center of his pontificate, partly as a means of “reaching over” the heads of recalcitrant prelates;

4) The instinctive reaction of conservative (not traditionalist) Catholics to made vocal and dedicated obedience to the person of the Pope the central feature of their Catholic identity – “instinctive” because it was seen as the mirror opposite of the disobedient reaction of so many progressive Catholics since the 1960’s.

And given the groundwork laid by that century of building ultramontanism, it was a kind of perfect storm. We see the results of that storm all around us now, with the wind blowing in a new direction.

The unexpected benefit of this pontificate is the forced reexamination of papal power and the nature of the Magisterium that more and more conservative Catholics are being forced to come to terms with. To read conservative outlets like Catholic Culture, The Catholic Thing, First Things and Catholic World Report over the past 30 months has been a striking spectacle in this regard.

4. Barbara Hvilivitzky - October 7, 2015

Yes, but don’t forget Leo XIII never physically left the Vatican, and the man in the pew would not have personally read his many excellent encyclicals. What we have with JPII is the perfect storm: a likeable figure who loved the crowd, secular media who saw a celebrity they could make newspaper fodder out of, a people sick of boring politicians, and the sexual revolution in full swing.

5. Joe of St Therese - October 8, 2015

I very much agree, in this pontificate, we’ve seen a reversion back to the cult of personality of JPII (Benedict XVI’s pontificate was a well needed break from that)….May this synod be short….

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