How the Holy Spirit works to pick Pope

‘Never whapped on the head’

The following comes from a February 15 posting on NCR online.

Before we begin, let me say a word about the traditional Catholic conviction that a conclave unfolds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In 2005, this idea was summed up by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, who said God already knew who the new pope was, so it was simply up to the cardinals to figure out what God had already decided.

Some pious souls take that to mean that it’s inappropriate, even borderline heretical, to suggest that politics are involved. Yet Catholic theology also holds that “grace builds on nature,” meaning that the spiritual dimension of a papal election doesn’t make it any less political.

Anyway, one shouldn’t exaggerate the role of divine inspiration. As one cardinal put it to me after the election of Benedict XVI, “I was never whapped on the head by the Holy Spirit. I had to make the best choice I could based on the information available.”

Perhaps the classic expression of this idea belongs to none other than the outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:

“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

Then the clincher:

“There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

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  1. I have to say that I am surprised that you link to the National Catholic Reporter. My priest said, in regards to the election of the new Pope, that we trust the Holy Spirit. So now who am I supposed to believe?

    • Anon, you got a non-answer from that priest. Why?

    • Maryanne Leonard says:

      When it comes to a contest between the teachings of a parish priest vs. the pronouncements of a holy pope, I’m going to assume the pope is, as we were taught, infallible in matters of faith. I find no fault whatsoever in the Pope’s explanation, despite it’s having been published in the National Catholic Reporter. It makes perfect sense in terms of human experience in similar matters of lesser importance and perfect sense when you realize who is speaking, and on what subject. How could our poor parish priest possibly be expected to know, sense, realize and/or understand all that our wonderful and holy pope knows, understands, and works hard to teach us? Priests are (generally speaking) absolutely wonderful, but our beloved Pope Benedict is a brilliant teacher who shares nuanced insights with us that resonate exquisitely in their internal integrity.

  2. The Holy Spirit will be with them at the conclave. The cardinals need to pray and the Holy spirit will guide them to make a wise choice for another holy pope, such as Pope Benedict XVI.

    When Archbishop Gomez relieved Cdl. Mahoney of administrative and public duties, it would have been nice if he had relieved Mahoney of his voting rights, so that he would not have any part in the election of a new pope.

    • Maryanne Leonard says:

      I think he pushed the envelope about as far as a person can who enjoys less authority than a cardinal. I believe that Pope Benedict may be the only one who could relieve Cardinal Mahony of his voting rights, and I am not even sure he is empowered to do that, other than by creating a new precedent. Does anyone know the legalities of this situation and can share (that is, summarize) canon law with us on the subject?

      • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

        Maryanne Leonard,

        As I understand it, only a Pope can Canonically remove a Cardinal!

        God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
        Kenneth M. Fisher

      • Maryanne, I’m not sure cardinals (at least, retired ones) have any authority at all.

        Whereas the Archbishop of Los Angeles is considered, by the Roman Catholic Church, to serve as the “Vicar of Christ” in leading his flock (see CCC 894-895), even as Pope Benedict is the Vicar of Christ in leading the universal flock.

        To my way of thinking (limited as it is), this means that the current Archbishop of Los Angeles “ranks” higher than the retired one — even if he is a cardinal.

  3. Yes, there have been 12 of the 266 Popes who would be considered immoral or scoundrels. At the same time 78 Popes are canonized Saints and 11 more have been beatified.

    What the above article has failed to state is that NO POPE in 2,000+ YEARS of history has formally and officially taught an error of Faith or Morals to the universal Church.

    Individually, some may have been poor or inadequate theologians or philosophers, and some may have had erroneous ideas about science. The main objective was and is to preserve the integrity of Catholic faith for all the members at all times and in all places.

    Therefore, the Holy Spirit does watch over His Church.

    And the CCC is correct. CCC: “882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.
    For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

    Jesus picked 12 imperfect sinners to be his Apostles. The first Pope, St. Peter, denied Christ 3 times, and Judas, one of the first Bishops, betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. One repented; the other hanged himself instead of seeking mercy. Let this be a lesson to all of us.

    • Mike, your partial definition of Catholics as sinners is an error which the devil loves us to use. Don’t you recognize the difference between repentant sinner and sinner? You also might want to consider the Centurian who was a pagan yet whose faith Jesus used for a Gospel example.

    • I would bet that all twelve of those “bad popes” predate the Council of Trent. We have had some weak popes since them and some popes who may have made questionable political calls (especially in the time of the Papal States), but none since Trent who could be said to have disgraced the office.

    • MIKE, do you know for sure if no pope has ever taught false faith or morals? If so, then what do you base your claim on? I’ve heard this also, but never looked into it. The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church, but it is not the same to say that popes cannot possibly teach error in faith or morals. The wording is different and the meanings are thus different; so where did this errorless teaching rule come from?

      The editor replies: The dogma of papal infallibility — that the pope cannot err “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church” — was defined and declared a dogma of the Church by the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). It was reaffirmed in the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium by the Second Vatican Council.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      MIKE does that information matter …we humans are interesting beings… we seek to add doubt or not but for now, we live in present times… lets focus on that and keep current times in our prayers.

      • TRUTH is always critically important as stated in the CCC.
        We must know that knowledge of honest history is important, or we will not be able to accurately evangelize a Protestant who probably knows some accurate history and will throw it in your face. We all need to know how to respond truthfully.
        If we do not get a good Pope we must not dispair. The Holy Spirit does watch over His Church.

        A good book for everyone to read which has a Nihil Obstat – from the Vatican’s “Censor Librorum”, and an Impirmatur from the “Vicar General/Moderator of the Curia” is “CATHOLICISM for DUMMIES”, which is also available in the EWTN Religious Catalogue.
        It has all the info I stated and much more.

        Tom, I think you are right. I don’t know for certain, but it appears that most if not all of the 12 bad Popes were prior to Council of Trent.

        Skai – the editor answered you, and you can also find the answer in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.

        CCC: “891 The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.
        When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.”

        For more on infallibility, please see CCC: 889. 890, 2035, 2051.

        Just so any readers are not confused – this infallibility ONLY applies to FAITH and MORALS, – not science, personal political beliefs, or anything else.

  4. Lord … save us from all the media speculation on who will be selected to wear the red shoes…

  5. “There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

    Good German practicality at its best…

  6. What? You quote “one shouldn’t exaggerate the role of divine inspiration”

    Why is this quoted in Cal Catholic? Why is anything from the National Catholic Distorter reprinted in Cal Catholic?

    • Perahps this is quoted because human beings, including cardinals, sometimes IGNORE the role of divine inspiration and instead make choices based on politics, “statements” (let’s have an African!), the buddy system, etc.

      The Holy Spirit may aim them toward Cardinal Smith, but they may well elect Cardinal Jones because he seems safer, or more liberal, or more conservative, or God knows what…

  7. The man picked for pope is not necessarily the man God wills to be picked. It depends on whether the electors have their ears and eyes open and their wills united with God’s will.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Skai I have never ever been taught that…..we must be careful not to sound heretical or add more confusion…wow …this topic is interesting because we can read something and wonder how did we get to that thinking.

  8. Thomas Edward Miles says:

    I knew that there was a reason that I sincerely respected the Holy Father, common sense in most areas, yes indeed, the Holy Spirit will attend, however, the Holy Spirit won’t have a RED HAT ON!

  9. Abeca Christian says:

    Do we pray? Do we acknowledge the existence of the Holy Ghost? Then we must steer away from negative comments that add doubt……

    Forgive us oh Lord….help us, we are in trouble today Lord…humans are too caught up with doubt and confusion. Put us in our place Lord, we are nothing but specks here on earth….please give peace to our hearts Lord and remove our anxieties, although they are just because of the current times we are facing that are troubling our faith and morals….but help us to gain the virtues we need to endure these times and hear our prayers. ABBA Lord Amen.

    • Never deny truth.
      Holy Scripture does not deny the truth either – the sinfulness of human beings, and God’s mercy for those who repent.

      The Bible is full of the sins of man, so that we will learn.
      Jesus could have made and picked perfect human beings for his Apostles and other disciples. He did not. This teaches all of us a lesson.

      • Abeca Christian says:

        MIKE who is denying truth? Please explain what you mean?

        You are puzzled perhaps because I found your information from past Popes irrelevant. Perhaps I am trying to live in the present, the past I have no power over. And to predict or add confusion in what people are already having anxiousness about is wrong to me. It is very obvious that having a new Pope in this current situation is adding much anxiousness in many. I think that pride and self righteousness has infected many in the church. But who am I? NOBODY.

        God’s will be done, not mine!

        • Abeca perhaps you found Mike’s post irrelevant but that does not mean that all others do.
          It is very important that each Catholic be encouraged and understand that if his or her favorite candidate(s) for Pope does not get picked that the Church will survive with the power of the Holy Spirit.
          The Church has survived 12 bad Popes before, it will continue to survive no matter the outcome.
          As you indicated, God’s will not mine, and we have no clue what that will is at this time in history.
          Don’t worry about anything, it does no good. Pray.
          If people don’t know the history of the Church, they may dispair depending on who is chosen.

          • Abeca Christian says:

            I suppose MIKES comments could be viewed as an encouragement. I didn’t view it that way….thanks for pointing out the other point of view.

            I am not against knowing the history of the church, not at all, for I am for it to keep tradition as well but I suppose I only felt that it added more anxieties. Well it is good to that you helped point that out to me. But I think MIKE misunderstood me as well, I have nothing against the truth. We both misunderstood each other, but I know MIKE has a good faithful heart so I never meant to question him out of spite, no but out clarity.

            You sure helped clarify I suppose but I know that many get tempted to feel hopeless and the mentioning of past Popes sure didn’t help me. Thank you for your comments though. : )

  10. good cause says:

    The Holy Spirit guides us all, or at least those of us who consult Him, and that includes Cardinals picking the Pope. If this were simply a case of the Cardinals consulting the Holy Spirit and voting the Spirit’s “choice” on the first ballot, then countless numbers of conclaves have gotten it wrong. Politics lives and thrives in the Sistine Chapel. Because Pope John Paull II picked the majority of Cardinals voting for his replacement, it was no surprise that Pope Benedict, John Paul’s longtime trusty lieutenant and doctrinal watchdog, got the nod from his bretheran in the Conclave. And so it will be in March, as Benedict added several dozen more to the College of Cardinals, giving doctrinal allies of John Paul all the voting power they need to keep control of the Church in that particular corner. Guess our beloved recent Popes have tried to do the Spirit’s job for Him, making sure that the Sprit will “get it right” (possible reason: no more John XXIIIs). And that, my friends, is Church politics, with a little bit of spiritual guidance thrown in.

    P.S. — If the Holy Spirit needs something else to do, He can enlighten Cardinal Mahoney and Cardinal Law to stay home. It will be a public embarassment if these two men participate in this conclave, given their sordid backgrounds of extensive criminal behavior. But that’s Church politics, too — it refuses to hold its leaders accountable for their misconduct and crimes… only God can do that, so they say. Where is the Holy Spirit when we need Him?

  11. Abeca Christian says:

    We are a prideful race…telling the Lord what is best and what He needs to do…instead of humbly asking for His will to be done and that no one may interfere due to free will.

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