John Rao Enroute to Roma

Conclave reports by Dr. John Rao
I – En route to Rome

Forty years ago, one popped up at the airport at the last moment and filled whatever seat might be open to any city that might be within shooting distance of his final destination. Something appropriate always turned up. Today, getting anywhere at a price that does not involve compromising a family’s entire future – and spending an unwanted day in a connecting airport situated in the opposite direction from one’s goal as well – is more difficult than obtaining an audience with a pastoral-minded prelate.

In any case, what this has meant is that I have had to delay my departure for Rome until tonight. I will be staying in the Eternal City for ten days with my good friend, Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula, the Rome Director of Human Life International, who lives just a few minutes walk from St. Peter’s Square. My plan is not only to cover the Conclave and the beginning of the Pontificate for Rorate Caeli, but also to ascertain what our fellow Traditionalists in Europe think of our prospects for the future under the new pontiff.

One silver lining of the delay has been the chance to give my regularly scheduled Church History lecture this Sunday afternoon. Preparing that conference has offered further scope for mulling over our contemporary situation in an historical context both chastening and hopeful in its lessons. In the case of today’s talk, those lessons concern the negative realities of what has positively been spoken of in the Press as the need for “transparency” in Church deliberations.

My topic this Sunday involves the Conclave of 1559 that followed upon the death of Paul IV—one of the most fractious of the Renaissance and Reformation era. Its deliberations began on September 5th and continued through the night of December 25th. After almost seventy fruitless votes, one of the numerous attempts to win the papal throne through election by vocal acclamation finally succeeded. Giovanni Angelo Medici of Milan, a man of modest birth (and only either dubiously or very distantly related to the Florentine family of the same name), left the Conclave as Pope Pius IV (1559-1563).

Why the long delay in reaching this result? The forty-seven out of fifty five cardinals present for the election were divided into three factions: a pro-Spanish group of seventeen, a pro-French contingent of sixteen, and a more or less cohesive force of the fourteen remaining Italians who had not joined either the Spanish or the French camp. More than twenty possible candidates emerged. Costs for keeping the Conclave going soared, the money spent being taken from essential city services, like providing basic security for the population. Elderly Princes of the Church began to sicken. One died. In the meantime, the Holy Roman Emperor, the French and Spanish Kings, and the rulers of the minor Catholic States of Europe managed to violate the standard operating procedures of the Conclave and overwhelm the voting cardinals with suggestions and commands, accompanied by warnings and threats regarding the dismal impact that failure to comply would have on their future careers. In other words, the all too porous walls of the supposedly secret Conclave ensured that the fires of the already blisteringly hot internal factionalism were continuously stoked from the outside.

This brings us to a short meditation on our current pre-Conclave period. That there are in some sense factions among contemporary cardinals is clear. Tension among these factions ought to be quite intense, given the fact that the road that the Church will tread will be very different depending upon which of three possible “parties” comes out of the Conclave victorious: one that will follow Pope Benedict XVI’s lead, but perhaps more consistently brake the Revolution within the Church and ultimately realize that it must reverse it entirely; one that will more openly and enthusiastically join in the dismantling of the pitiful remains of Catholic Christendom; or one that will continue mindlessly to smile and praise the “fruits of the Council” as the Mystical Body of Christ is mocked, outraged, and reduced to utter impotence.

Surely I am not alone in believing that it is that third “party of conciliar disaster denial” that should be the focus of our prayers as the cardinals enter the Conclave. It is probably the largest of the factions within the College. The state of Vatican finances, clerical scandals, and other issues of moment must way heavily upon its members’ minds and hearts, and I am convinced that they do look for guidance from the Holy Spirit to deal with them. Unfortunately, openness to that supernatural guidance is powerfully blocked by their intellectual unwillingness to connect the true cause of the Church’s ills with its obvious effects; a problem eloquently discussed most recently by Professor Roberto de Mattei. Hence, they continue to feel obliged to prescribe more conciliar poisons as the cure for the disease that these toxins have themselves encouraged. Should a candidate of such a mindset win, that would mean a pontificate that will take all too seriously further commitment to “the spirit of the Council”; most especially, the recent calls for a Church of greater “transparency” in all its deliberations and actions.

I am not arguing that secrecy is an intrinsically good recipe for governance or that the day-to-day administration of the affairs of the Holy See is not in need of a thoroughgoing shake-up. What I am arguing is that the call for “transparency” is not the answer to the problems that the Papacy faces. It is but the latest fraudulent bumper sticker slogan of that alliance of proponents of a conciliar-minded aggiornamento with the outside secular world that has never provided anything more than repeated opportunities for the strongest wills to triumph over Christ in the name of Reason and Progress.

“Transparency” sounds like it means a desire for disclosure of the truth about the Vatican Bank. In reality, it actually means openness to secular political and social pressure. It was precisely to avoid the blatant outside family and military manipulation that such “transparency” caused when “the Clergy and the People” of Rome were supposedly in control of the election of the pope that the reform movement of the Eleventh Century transferred electoral privileges to the more restricted College of Cardinals. It was precisely “transparency” that made the Conclave of 1559 the embarrassing hot potato that it was, with all of its arrogant “calls to political order” on the part of emperors, kings, and princes.

The demand for “transparency” in preparing for the Conclave of 2013, along with the praise of such “transparency” as a distinctly American virtue, was not only designed to turn the election of the successor of St. Peter into another manifestation of our own macabre electoral campaigning. It was also a threat. For “transparency” in our pluralist-dominated Global Fatherland really means openly treating the loudest anti-Catholic voices and the most distorted anti-Catholic passions as worthy of discussion by the Princes of the Church both now and forever in the future. It means putting their destructive influence on a much higher level than that of believers who are eager to discuss what is truly wounding the embattled Spouse of Christ. More than this, it means guaranteeing that anti-Catholic forces win, since their failure to do so would be interpreted as an unwillingness to be fully “transparent”. And once they get in control, all concern for “transparency” where it might do some good, such as in treatment of the finances of the Holy See, will cease. In short, “transparency” is another one of the many modern frauds that sound good as mantras but open up trapdoors to hell. Modern freedom, modern Reason, modern democracy, and modern transparency are, once again, merely code words for the Triumph of the strongest anti-Catholic Will.

Thankfully, the Conclave of 1559 fought off the evils caused by the transparency of its own day. Thankfully, the cardinals present—some of them perhaps directly docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit and others guided mysteriously to promote His will while thinking that they were pursuing more selfish goals—elected an effective if unexpected proponent of good change. For Pius IV, who was much less rigorous and reform-minded than Paul IV, nevertheless brought the Council of Trent to conclusion and worked together with a cardinal-nephew who was as holy as he was intelligent and administratively transparent and effective: the future Archbishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo—the Catholic Reformation prelate par excellence. Through prayer for the cardinals of the Conclave of 2013—many if not most of them all too susceptible to the voices calling for a new commitment to the spirit of the Council by acceptance of fraudulent modern transparency—docility to the Holy Spirit might triumph and our new Catholic Reformation take place.

The glorious work of the reform popes from the mid-sixteenth century onwards brought to an end that sense of drift and confusion characterizing the era that began with the return to Rome and the re-establishment of papal unity after the Avignon period and the Great Western Schism. That era began with Pope Martin V (1417-1431). What was the Eternal City like when he arrived there in the second decade of the Fifteenth Century? Let us see what Ludwig von Pastor says in this regard:

“Martin V found Rome at peace, but in such a state of misery that, as one of his biographers observes, ‘it hardly bore the semblance of a city’. The world’s capital was completely in ruins, its aspect was deplorable, decay and poverty met the eye on every side. Famine and sickness had decimated its inhabitants and reduced the survivors to the direst need. The towers of the nobles looked down upon foul streets, encumbered with rubbish and infested with robbers both by night and by day….The city in which these poor creatures lived consisted of a few miserable dwellings scattered through a great field of ruins. Many monuments which had survived the calamities of the Avignon period had been destroyed during the terrible years of the Schism. Amongst these was the Castle of St. Angelo, which, in the spring of 1379, was demolished, all but the central keep, containing the room where was the grave of Hadrian….[S]carcely any ancient sculpture remained standing; it had been used for steps, for door-sills, for building and for mangers for beasts…moreover, the ancient edifices were used as quarries for building materials, and for burning into lime. The other structures in the City had also suffered dreadfully during the vicissitudes of the Schism; most of the houses had fallen, many churches were roofless, and others had been turned into stables for horses. The Leonine City was laid waste; the streets leading to St. Peter’s, the portico of the church itself, were in ruins, and the walls of the City were, in this quarter, broken down, so that by night the wolves came out of the desolate Campagna, invaded the Vatican Gardens, and with their paws dug up the dead in the neighboring Campo Santo.” (Ludwig Pastor, The History of the Popes (Herder, 1906, pp. 214-216).

Dear friends, the city of Rome does not fit this description today. Unfortunately, our beloved Church of Rome does. Let us pray that the state of the Church can be transformed through solid Catholic change as radically as the city of Rome was renewed through the splendors of Renaissance and Baroque at. But that can only happen if the cardinals in Conclave allow the Holy Spirit and not the Spirit of Transparency of our fraudulent, secular Global Fatherland guide them in their deliberations.

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