Is the Pope chosen by God, or not?
After day one of the Vatican series of Big Brother, before Jorge “Super” Mario Bergoglio won Pope Idol and launched his new career by taking the stage name “Francis”, I was feeling provocative:
I know what the answer would be, and even if I didn’t, a lifetime of belief has made me highly skilled at providing post hoc explanations of all sorts of things. God doesn’t speak like that, we’re only sinful, fallible mortals, speaking clearly and unmistakably would prove His existence (the Babel Fish Argument), and so on. Shame on me for betraying my ignorance and superficiality with such a slanted question.
Or not. Twitter’s not an ideal forum for a detailed discussion, but those predictable stock responses are very revealing in their own way. If God doesn’t speak in a clear, unambiguous way, even over such an important issue to a group of (you’d think) the holiest men in the church, when would He ever communicate His wishes clearly?
But if God doesn’t make a clear statement, so that even a gathering restricted to the very highest reaches of the church can’t quickly form a pretty clear opinion on what His wishes might be, how come those same people are always so very sure that they know exactly what He thinks about all sorts of other things?
This isn’t a problem restricted to Catholics, either. Every church experiences the same thing, with debate and divisions at every level about what God wants to be done, but united and firm in the belief that they know what He really wants in any number of different areas where they want to preach to the rest of us. Anyone who’s ever served on a Parochial Church Council will recognise the same thing. It’s just that Rome, like Texas, seems to do everything a little bit bigger.
If the cardinals who elect the next Pope can’t agree on who God would prefer, what are the odds that the Pope can do any better, once appointed? How is he meant to reliably (and occasionally infallibly) set out doctrine if God’s as clear and communicative as a teenager with laryngitis? Even explanations like scripture and tradition just move the question back a step, as they still ultimately rely on some form of divine revelation.
I don’t really care how they run their club – political considerations and deep divisions are par for the course in any organisation. But when God’s will is so hard to discern, even among people who believe in Him and share a common background and understanding, it would be nice if they could stop being so outspoken in using their interpretation of “God’s plan” and “God’s law” to deny others basic rights.