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Popular misconceptions: III

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 26, 2013

As the date of the Pope’s resignation draws near, thousands of “news” stories are posted about a confidential Vatican report on the “Vatileaks” scandal and on the likely candidates for the papacy. Let me caution readers once again about putting any credence in these reports. The “Vatileaks” scandal has not been seen by anyone in the media; stories about its contents are entirely conjectural. As for the odds of any particular prelate’s chances to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, the old Vatican saying is particularly applicable: “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know.”

Today, rather than correcting outright errors, let me answer a few questions that have been asked frequently, and needlessly.

  • Could Cardinal Peter Turkson become the first African Pope? That’s easy. No, he couldn’t. Not because he is unlikely to be elected (although I think that’s the case), but because the Church has already had African Pontiffs. St. Victor became the 1st African Pope 1,824 years ago. Sts. Militiades and Gelasius, both Africans, succeeded him in the 4th and 5th centuries.
  • Will Archbishop of Westminster be called to participate in the conclave, replacing Cardinal Keith O’Brien? The Daily Telegraph asked that question, and again the answer can be given easily: No. In theory, perhaps Pope Benedict could rush Archbishop Vincent Nichols a red hat. But it is extremely improbable that in the final hours of his pontificate, the Holy Father would act so rashly. A few British Catholics might feel better, knowing that they had at least one representative in the conclave. But millions of others would accuse the Pontiff of manipulating the conclave. And in any case, cardinals are not representing their native countries at the conclave; they are representing the universal Church. One more point: Pope Benedict called 2 consistories last year, and created 28 new cardinals. If he had felt it was imperative to have Archbishop Nichols in the College of Cardinals, he could have arranged it.
  • This final item is not a question but an unintentionally humorous statement, from Foreign Policy site (registration required), where Paolo Mastrolilli announces: “According to sources close to the pope, Benedict XVI resigned because he felt he no longer had the physical and intellectual energy to address the Vatican’s problems.” Well, yes, if by “sources close to the Pope” you mean the Pope himself… Recall that in announcing his resignation, Benedict XVI said that “my strengths, due to advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” In that same announcement, the Holy Father also said “in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me." The Foreign Policy report performs a remarkable journalistic feat: taking something that is a matter of public record and making it sound like speculation.

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