Buckley Praying for Pope’s Death
Drudge links Wednesday’s column by William F. Buckley, Jr., arguably the founder of the modern American conservative movement and inarguably a devout Roman Catholic.
At church on Sunday the congregation was asked to pray for the recovery of the pope. I have abstained from doing so. I hope that he will not recover. The seizure brought on by his dramatic trip to the hospital a week ago suggests the international sense of his indispensability. Pope John Paul is a graphic figure in the lives of Catholics and many non-Catholics. He is, of course, a towering theological figure who has presided over the development of Catholic thought and practice for the 26 years of his papacy. He is a major historical figure, who began as a Catholic seminarian in a Poland subservient first to a Nazi overlord (they hanged him in Nuremberg), then to a communist overlord (nothing happened to him — the communists are never prosecuted). From that scene he succeeded to the Holy See, where he was the symbol of hope and, after the communists fell, of triumph, distinctive in his bid for international recognition as a God-fearing man of good will.
The temptation is, always, to pray for the continuation of the life of anyone who wants to keep on living. The pope is one of these. In the past, he recorded that he did not plan ever to abdicate, that he would die on the papal throne.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said simply, “If there is a man who loves the Church more than anybody else, who is guided by the Holy Spirit … that’s him. We must have great faith in the pope. He knows what to do.”
What to do includes clinging to the papacy as a full-time cripple, if medicine, which arrested death by only 10 minutes, can arrest death again for weeks and even months. But the progressive deterioration in the pope’s health over the last several years confirms that there are yet things medical science can’t do, and these include giving the pope the physical strength to coordinate and to use his voice intelligibly.
So, what is wrong with praying for his death? For relief from his manifest sufferings? And for the opportunity to pay honor to his legacy by turning to the responsibility of electing a successor to get on with John Paul’s work? Muriel Spark commented in “Memento Mori”: “When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality.” That cannot be effected by the hospital in which the pope struggles.
An interesting question, indeed. As Buckley suggests, withering away in office is not theologically mandated. Given the exhausting demands of the office, one would think retirement more logical. There is, apparently, antecedent for it. Still, dying in office has been the norm throughout the history of the church.
There have been only three popes in my lifetime–Paul VI, who served from two years before I was born until I was twelve (1963-78); John Paul I, who was pontiff for only a few weeks in 1978; and John Paul II. The previous two died in office and it seems the current one will do so soon, lasting much longer than most expected given an assassin’s bullet in 1981 and the ravages of age and disease these last several years.