Saturday, April 3, 2010

The papacy today: Henry VIII had other ideas

NOT SINCE POPE Clement VII was besieged by Henry VIII to annul the son-less king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon a half millennium ago has there been so much commotion over the Vatican's supreme role in shaping the religious path of its followers. You get a sense of the crisis when a reporter asked the ranking information guy for the papacy about the current public relations fallout. The poor fellow told the reporter that he had yet to discuss it with Benedict. Hmmm....

Otherwise, it should be obvious by now that even Holy Week did not provide a useful cover for the Holy Father from the fiery attacks over shrugged-off sexual abuse of kids. Historians tell us that when Henry was rebuffed by Rome on what was known as his "great matter," he simply did what any hot-tempered king would do and broke with the Vatican. It stayed that way with Henry's Anglicans until Benedict decided that the church's ranks needed be filled in the widening gaps and invited the Anglicans to come home to Catholicism. After all of these years of deep suspicions between the two camps, that was a hard act to follow, and I've seen nothing to suggest many took Benedict up on his offer. Maybe Larry King will find a convert and interview him.

There is little evidence that the pope will say or do anything more than what he has done so far, no matter the expressed irritation of some Catholic cardinals and bishops over the stone wall that has been built around Vatican City. As generally happens in times of great stress, a lot of folks on both sides have been anxious to get in their dibs. That includes the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa , the Vatican priest who allowed that the attacks on the pope were a lot like the persecution of the Jews. The front office in Rome didn't buy his comments at all and quickly distanced the Vatican from the priest's remarks. By the way, Cantalamessa's title is "preacher of the papal household."

Now, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, chipped in with a slam at the Catholic Church in Ireland, accusing it of "losing all credibility." That set off several other skirmishes in which he finally apologized to the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, saying he meant no offense by his comments. Cool. That may settle things for a day or two.

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