awaits a New Pope
Pope John Paul II
is so close to physical or mental
collapse, that Vatican officials
are worried that he might. Yet they are even more worried that he might
The situation has come
to such a crisis that a leading bishop openly declares the pope should
resign while he still has enough faculties to do so.
Yet, in the past seven
centuries, no pope has resigned. They are either murdered or they die.
And, as those who have
read our 56-page book, The Murder of Pope John Paul 1,
well-know, it would not be best to assassinate two popes in a row. The
city of Rome knows too well what happened to John Paul II's
predecessor. (See The Murder of Pope John Paul I, $3.00 + $1.50.)
The story of the current
crisis, and its background, seems incredible in some of its details, so
we will heavily quote from three sources:
1. His Holiness,
Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi.
1. The British
Telegraph, January 2, 2000.
2. Time magazine,
January 24, 2000.
Karol Jozef Wojtyla (the
future Pope Paul II at the time) was born on May 7, 1920 (Bernstein
and Politi, p. 17). Entering the priesthood, he eventually became a
But the day they killed
Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I; September 29, 1978) was to be the
turning point in Wojtylas life.
morning, October 16, there were two more ballots. Siri began to lose
ground, while many of the other votes were divided among Cardinals
Giovanni Columbo, Ugo Poletti, and the Dutchman Johannes Willebrands.
The results indicated that the Italian candidates were finished. On
the sixth ballot, the last before the midday meal, the votes in favor
of the archbishop of Krakow abruptly surged.
"At lunch Karol
Wojtyla looked so tense that some of his supporters feared he might
refuse to accept election. That afternoon, as the whispery silence
thickened, Karol Wojtyla was glimpsed in the cell of Cardinal
Wyszynski [the senior cardinal of Poland], agitated and weeping. He
had collapsed in the arms of Wyszynski, the primate of Poland. There
was no more doubt what would happen next.
" If they
elect you, Wyszynski said, you must accept. For Poland.
himself. Two ballots later he heard his name announced. Ninety-nine
cardinals out of one hundred and eight had given him their vote. They
had done the unimaginable: They had chosen a pope from a country
subject to the Soviet Union, a country with a Marxist and atheist
government. He was the first non-Italian pontiff in 450 years [it is
believed the Vatican murdered the last one, Pope Adrian VI, on
September 14, 1523 after a reign of only 20 months], a young pope, at
the age of fifty-eight."Bernstein and Politi, pp. 169-170.
Only fifty-eight, a
young pope. We recall the news articles back in 1978, noting how
athletic Wojtyla was. He went skiing as often as he could.
But the attempted
assassination of May 13, 1981, slowed him down.
"At five p.m.,
the pope emerged from the Apostolic Palace for his Wednesday general
audience in St. Peters Square, which was to include a ride around
the square to wave to the crowds, followed by an address from his
throne. The audience, Dziwisz remembers, began punctually at five
o'clock, in a perfectly orderly fashion. Nothing foreshadowed what
was going to happen as Wojtyla entered his open pope mobile.
"As he rode
around the colonnade, the pope appeared at ease, his face pink and
smiling, Dziwisz recalls. How young he looks, thought a
Polish nun as he passed in front of her. He went around the Egyptian
obelisk once, then a second time. As always, Don Stanislaw was just
behind the pope, who was standing.
heard a deafening noise and recoiled as the pigeons all over the
square took flight. I didn't understand immediately what had
happened, for until then no one thought that such a thing was
possible that someone would try to kill the pope.
"But the pope
himself and his security team must have known he was courting danger.
In Karachi, on February 16 [three months earlier] of that same year,
an hour before the pope was to visit the municipal stadium, a bomb
exploded, killing the man who was carrying it. On November 26, 1979,
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish terrorist, had publicly vowed to kill the
pope during his visit to Turkey. In January 1980, Alexandre De
Marenches, head of the French secret service, had sent an emissary to
warn the pope of a Communist plot on his life. I had been
warned, De Marenches disclosed. The information was important
because it was credible . . One would think that, given the close
relations between Italy and the Vatican, the Vatican Secret Service
would inform Rome about the situation. But apparently that never
happened. And indeed the gunman who fired several shots two of which
struck the pope was the same Mehmet Ali Agca, whose Browning 9mm
automatic pistol was less than twenty feet from the pope when the
trigger was pulled." Bernstein and Politi, pp. 293-294.
In the years since then,
John Paul II had been instrumental in closely working with U.S.
intelligence to counterwork Soviet activity. But that is another story.
Repeatedly, John Paul and his advisers consulted with high-placed CIA
and U.S. State Department personnel, regarding ways to counteract Soviet
influence in Eastern Europe. (The Vatican also had visits from the FBI,
over the Mafia-controlled Vatican Bank, which was doing
money-laundering, for part of the take, for the Mafia; see our book, The
Murder of John Paul I.)
At the same time, John
Pauls devotion for the Virgin Mary became almost obsessively fervent.
This was because, just as Ali Agca raised the gun and took aim, the pope
had stooped down when he saw a girl in the crowd holding up a picture of
the Virgin. John Paul bent down to look at it; just then the shots rang
out. Fully believing that the picture saved his life, the pope vowed
even deeper devotion to the Virgin.
This led him, throughout
the 1980s and 1990s, to believe every so-called apparition (appearance)
of the Virgin to faithful Catholics throughout the world. Mary is said
to be repeatedly predicting that a great final crisis would occur some
time just after the turn of the century, either in the year 2000 or
2001. (See my book, The Marian Messages, for an extensive
collection of quotations and their import: The Marian Messages: Final
Events as Predicted by the Spirits to Faithful Roman Catholics, 65 pp.,
8 x 11, $5.50 + $1.50). You should be aware of what they
are being taught.
But the two bullets
which brought him closer to the Virgin Mary also sapped his vitality, By
the 1990s, John Paul was growing weaker. Yet he held on. Those of you
who have read in Keys of This Blood, by Malachi Martin, know that
the pope was convinced that Rome would ultimately conquer the powers of
the West (U.S.) and the East (Communism) and that the turn of the
century would bring great deliverance to the papal church.
By the late 1990s, John
Paul's concern was centered on remaining alive till the new millennium
brought the fulfillment of the Virgins messages.
But now his associates
in the Vatican are concerned lest he continue on and becomes a basket
"The race to find
a new Pope has begun in earnest amid fears that the health of John
Paul has deteriorated to the point where he may not be able to
continue in office. Speculation that a new Pope may soon have to be
found has increased with recent reports that the longest serving
pontiff of the 20th century now has to be pushed around on a trolley
by two attendants, to ease the strain on his legs."
Quest Intensifies for the Next Pope," British Telegraph, Sunday,
January 2, 2000.
Pope John Paul II's
condition keeps worsening. Selected from many which could be cited, here
are several news headlines:
December 27, 1995: Pope
is taken ill during blessing.
March 14, 1996: Sick
Pope cancels audience.
September 7, 1996: Frail
Pope flies to Hungary for monastery's millennium.
January 26, 1999: Tired
Pope heads for U.S. on right to life crusade.
June 13, 1999: Pontiff
cuts his head in bathroom fall.
June 16, 1999: Fear for
Popes health as giant mass is called off.
November 11, 1999: Pope
is too tired for foreign trips, says his doctor.
As you can see, within
the past year, John Paul's condition has deteriorated.
"The Pope is
clearly seriously ill. A November trip to Georgia was overshadowed by
a series of worrying convulsions that television cameras were hastily
barred from filming. Ill health has also led to a curtailment of his
participation in the church's jubilee celebrations."
Telegraph, Sunday, January 2, 2000.
Here is a rather clear
statement on the popes condition:
58-year-old elected in 1978 to challenge communism suffers from the
onset of Parkinson's disease, limps and has terrible difficulty
negotiating steps. His left arm shakes, at times uncontrollably. His
face is rigid, and his speech is slurred. At the end of 1999, his
aides moved him around [the inside of] St. Peters Basilica with a
pushcart." "Is He the Retiring Type?" Time
magazine, January 24, 2000.
The crisis broke open
through the media, when a German bishop publicly announced that Pope
John Paul II should resign from office.
I think the pope is capable of admitting courageously, "I can no
longer carry out my task in an adequate way." I believe
the Pope would be capable of that if he had the impression that he was
no longer able to lead the church with authority. After Bishop Karl
Lehmann of Mainz offered that opinion on German radio, a small
earthquake of headlines went through Rome. German Bishops: The
Pope Is Sick. He Should Resign, declared one paper.
Wojtyla Step Aside. A Strong Pope Is Needed, said another,
using John Paul II's family name."
Time, January 24, 2000.
That any official in the
church should publicly make an issue of the ominous situation was highly
embarrassing to the Vatican.
abdication? The commotion overshadowed the announcement that the Pope
would travel to the Middle East in March as part of the Jubilee Year,
a period for which he has been strenuously preparing. There has been
some concern over the image of the Pontiff broadcast over the
millennial weekend: one of a visibly weakened man."
January 24, 2000.
The possibility was
startling, since no pope had abdicated in the past 700 years.
"But there has
been no voluntary papal abdication since Celestine in 1294. And while
Celestine was later canonized, Dante placed him in the Inferno for
ii gran rifiuto (the great refusal [leaving office]), albeit
only in the first circle of Hell: Limbo. Other pontiffs have been
removed by murder, martyrdom, military intervention or rare coups by
the College of Cardinals during pagan rule, the confusion of the Dark
Ages, Byzantine meddling, populist revolutions or chronic political
impotence." Time, January 24, 2000.
What would happen if
such an unheard of possibility were to happen? Would the pope totally
leave the Vatican or would he become a senior adviser? (Our own General
Conference presidents who are replaced continue, as has done N. C.
Wilson, to serve on the General Conference Committee. Robert Folkenberg
resigned and is out completely.)
" If he
resigns, he has to pack up and go, says the Jesuit scholar Thomas
Reese. If he retires after 80 (an age he will reach in May), he would
not be allowed to attend the conclave that will gather to elect his
"But John Paul
II, living in retirement, would also be an influence too powerful to
ignore, even if he is not anywhere near the voting cardinals. He is
probably aware that every new Pope in the past 300 years has been
dramatically different from his predecessor. John Paul II may have
forestalled that by naming some 90% of the cardinals now in the
college. If he retired, he would be even more certain that the church
stays his course. Could a new Pope change policies if the former Pope,
with all his prestige, were still alive, looking over his shoulder?
Japanese Emperors and Shoguns were used to retire to achieve
just that kind of uncrossable seniority."
Time, January 24,
Vatican officials have,
for quite some time, been deeply concerned about John Paul's
increasing physical and mental incapacity. They have quietly been laying
plans for his successor.
Even as he declares that
he will not resign, John Paul is meeting with possible successors, in
case he might suddenly die. The pope wants to sound out their policies.
Vatican, officials are admitting that intense negotiations are now
underway on the future of the papacy. The Pope himself has held a
series of sounding out lunches with potential papal candidates.
These private meals, in the presence of one witness, have taken place
with the French cardinal Roger Etchegarry; the Colombian cardinal
Dario Castrillon Hoyos; and the Italian cardinal Camillo Ruini.
the lunches as an attempt by John Paul II to maintain control of the
succession and its timing." British Telegraph, Sunday,
January 2, 2000.
But lest anyone think
that John Paul was considering turning in a resignation, on December 22,
1999, he told Vatican officials not to expect it.
before Christmas, in a private meeting with senior Vatican advisers,
he issued a stern warning to ambitious cardinals, saying that he had
no intention of standing down." British Telegraph, Sunday,
January 2, 2000.
The pope said he will
continue in office, regardless of what others may want.
"According to a
leak from the meeting, the 79-year-old pontiff said that he had a
divine mission to continue to guide the church despite
personal weakness. "British Telegraph, Sunday, January
But church officials are
increasingly focused on the problem. They recognize that something must
be done. Since only a church council would have the authority to evict
the pope, the center of talk largely revolves around who John Paul's
successor might be. Contenders are jostling into position.
characteristically defiant message has failed to stop the gossip. Amid
the upwardly mobile in his flock are beginning to plot . . Officially,
talk about life after John Paul is forbidden within the church. But
the corridors of Roman Catholic power are alive with intrigue. Of
course people are talking about it and everyone has their own
theories, one Vatican official said. Its a strange situation
because this time there is no clear favourite to become the next Pope.
It could be any one of 10 candidates.
"The open field
has generated some discreet but energetic campaigning, as bewildering
battle hues are drawn on geographical and ideological grounds. The
Italians want an Italian after 21 years of Polish rule. The liberals
want a candidate who approves of women priests and married clergy.
Africans are lobbying for the first black Pope. The Latin Americans
want a non-European. Reformers demand a Pope who will devolve power
back to national churches. Conservatives require a strong man who will
keep power in Rome." British Telegraph, Sunday, January 2,
That is what matters to
Vatican officials: "keeping power in Rome." They fear that the
next pope may be a non-Italian, yet it is likely they will not be able
to keep it from happening.
"Up to 120
cardinals will meet in conclave to choose the next Pope when the time
comes, and the most senior among them are already pitching for votes.
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Archbishop of Milan, carries most
Italian hopes. A heavyweight theologian, he made an impassioned
address to a gathering of European bishops last autumn, demanding
doctrinal changes to such knotty problems as the position of
women in the church, sexuality and marital discipline.
veiled plea for liberalization a direct challenge to the
conservative John Paul drew hoorahs from the Italian press.
Martinis biggest ally is the Italian media, said a Rome
journalist who has covered the Vatican for the past 15 years. But
his nationality is also his problem. The other European cardinals will
never vote for an Italian. They dont want to see the Italians
regain complete control over the papacy.
may also scotch the hopes of Cardinal Ruini, the head of the Italian
episcopal council (CJE), who presents himself as a democratizer. Along
with the Brazilian Lucas Moreira Neves, Cardinal Castrillon is a hot
tip from Latin America, Roman Catholicism's boom continent. Singled
out to assist the Pope during Holy Week services, Castrillon has also
been awarded the co-presidency of the synod of the Americas, a
formidable power-base. Other names whispered in the Vatican include
Thomas Winning, the Scottish cardinal; and the Archbishop of Paris,
Jean-Marie Lustiger. Christoph Schoenborn, the high-flying Archbishop
of Vienna, is considered promising but, at the age of 54, too young."
Telegraph, Sunday, January 2, 2000.
Who is this Bishop
Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz, Germany, who dares to openly challenge the
church with a public call for the pope's resignation?
weeks announcement may have more personal roots. There is no love
lost between John Paul and Bishop Lehmann, who heads the German
Catholic Bishops Conference. The German church runs 250
abortion-counseling centers, and after five years of wrangling, its
bishops bowed to pressure from the Pope last June and agreed to stop
issuing certificates that permit women to terminate a pregnancy within
the first 12 weeks. (Without the certificate, abortion is illegal.)
Says historian and novelist F__ Andrew Greeley: Lehmann wont be
made a cardinal as long as John Paul is Pope. After the loud
Italian headlines, Lehmann insisted he had been misunderstood. I
didn't ask for the Pope's retirement, he said. He did
reiterate, however, that John Paul was quite old and that it would be
opportune for the church to have a strong Pope."
January 24, 2000.
Church leaders elsewhere
in the world are upset that the pope is trying to predetermine who will
be his successor.
world, senior church figures have begun to mutter darkly about
high-handedness from the "super-bishop" from Rome. His
successor will be expected to cede some papal power even as he seizes
it. But there is a great deal of politics to play behind the scenes
before then. For the moment the Polish Pope is still centre-stage. But
the rustling in the wings has become audible."
Telegraph, Sunday, January 2, 2000.
Every indication from
the pope is that he has no intention of resigning.
unlikely that John Paul II will step down. Certainly not this year,
which is important to him symbolically, with his planned pilgrimage to
the Middle East." Time, January 24, 2000.
concerns are very real, for the potential problem is a serious one.
Medical science is now able to keep people alive after they should be
has revealed a latent concern. Says Greeley: The church has a real
problem in that there is no provision in church legislation for a Pope
who becomes incapable of acting as Pope. While the Vatican can
operate with an incapacitated Pope, important decisions (the naming of
bishops) and documents would have to wait until he was well enough to
approve of them or until a new Pope came around. A mentally
compromised Pope kept alive artificially would present the church with
a constitutional crisis. If a Pope can see that coming, says Greeley,
he should choose or be persuaded to retire. In which case, canon
law is simple. The Pope is one of the worlds last absolute rulers
and answers only to God. All he has to say is, I resign. "Time,
January 24, 2000.
John Paul could have a stroke or other
complication, and be kept alive in a hospital unconscious on tubes for
years. No one would dare let the poor man die in peace. Since he has
Parkinson's, he could become increasingly feeble and essentially
unable to carry on any duties. vf