Letting go

MY FOUR CENTAVOS - Dean Andy Bautista (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2015 - 12:00am

The amazing Pope Francis has done it again. He is making the Catholic Church re-think its 600 year tradition that the Papacy is a position for life. In a March 15, 2015 interview with Mexican network Televisa that almost coincided with the second anniversary of his election, he remarked: “I have a feeling that my pontificate will be brief. I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more. Four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. But it is a feeling.  I always leave the possibility open.”  Given all the good that he has done for the Church in the last two years and the potential good which he can still do, my four centavo wish that this does not turn out to be an “Ides of March” prediction.

But the idea of a Papacy with a term limit ought to be considered. Pope Francis gives credit to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for making a courageous decision to resign in 2013.  After “repeatedly examining his conscience before God,” Benedict “had come to the certainty that his strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”  Coincidentally, the last Pope before Benedict to voluntarily step down was Gregory XII who abdicated in 1415 or exactly 600 years ago.  

While he is opposed to the idea of setting a specific age limit, Pope Francis is definitely open to retiring when he is no longer capable of carrying out his duties. During the last few years of his papacy, it was clear that Pope John Paul II was no longer in complete control of his faculties. He often appeared frail and weak. Query therefore as to who were writing his homilies or issuing Vatican documents in his name? Ironically, it was Pope John Paul who approved the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law which now allows a Pope to resign (canon 332).    

In the Catholic Church, the Pope is both a monarch and a prime minister – he possesses symbolic and real authority.  As Peter’s successor, he not only acts as the chief moral witness, he also serves as the chief executive officer of the world’s largest organization. The tasks of the latter are far more physically demanding than the former.  

Parenthetically, Bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignations at 75 although the Pope may ask them to continue to serve after reaching that age. Cardinals above 80 are no longer permitted to vote for the next Pope although one could argue a contrary position.  The older princes of the Church are “wiser” because they have more experience, know their fellow Cardinals longer and age should not really matter since the act of voting does not entail physical endurance.  Perhaps the better rule is to allow them to vote but not to allow anyone above 75 or 80 to be elected. 

Perhaps it is time that the Church adopt modern management techniques such as succession planning to ensure a smooth transition in leadership. Yet how will this jive with an election process believed to be imbued with the Holy Spirit?

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Term limit: The concept of term limits for public offices has been with us since time immemorial. The council of 500 in Athens and the ephorate in Sparta rotated the entire membership annually.  The Roman Republic mandated that magistrates serve only a single term of one year with re-election to the same office forbidden for 10 years.  The American founding fathers were well aware of these practices and that is why it was surprising that there are no prohibitions contained in their 1789 US Constitution.  Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and George Mason strongly advocated for term limits with Lee believing that the absence of such limits as “most highly and dangerously oligarchic.”  For his part, Mason thought that periodic rotation was “most essential to the preservation of a Republican government.”

Be that as it may, George Washington set the informal tradition for a two-term limit for the Presidency.  This tradition was honored until the incumbency of the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served for four terms.  This enabled him to appoint 75 Federal Judges (including three Supreme Court Justices) far surpassing the 46 Federal Judges appointed by Ulysses Grant. This experience led to the passage of the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution in 1951 formally establishing the two-term limit.

Note however that at the federal level, the Vice President, the Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives continue to enjoy four, six and two year unlimited terms, respectively. In this regard, Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Daniel Inoyue of Hawaii, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (he was still a Senator at age 100) and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts served for 51, 49, 47 and 46 years, respectively.  In the House, Representatives John Dingell of Michigan and Jamie Whitten of Mississippi served for 59 and 53 years, respectively. 

Similarly, US Supreme Court Justices do not have a term and serve “during good behavior.”  They can only be removed from office through impeachment and conviction for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Just like the Popes, they usually serve “hasta morir” unless they voluntarily retire.  The longest serving Justice was William Douglas who sat on the bench for close to 37 years. Out of the 112 Justices appointed since the 18th century, 54 have chosen to retire.

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Holy cow:  International marketing whiz and faithful reader Bienvenido “Pet” Bautista (I wish we were related) text messaged in reaction to last week’s column to say that holiness is probably the reason why “sacred” cows make the best “hamburgers.” It took me a few minutes to understand his deep spiritual reflection. Following his logic, St. John Paul and Mother Theresa probably cooked mean hamburgers as well during their lifetimes.

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“You can only lose what you cling to.”  – Buddha

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Email: deanbautista@yahoo.com


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