I have not written much about whom I believe the new Pope ought to be, nor about whom I think the next Pope will be. Yes, I have thought through both. I am prepared to talk about them both in the right venue.
Clement XIV had died on 22 September 1774. Clement had, among other things, suppressed the Jesuits and knighted the 14 year old Mozart. He had been Pope for only about 5 years.
As if he could have been writing about our own time, about a month after the Pope’s death Alphonsus wrote…
Live Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Arienzo, 24 October 1774
Your Excellency My dear friend and Lord,
As regards my opinions concerning the present state of the church with relation to the election of the new Pope, what opinion of any weight could a miserable, ignorant, and unspiritual person like myself possibly give? [HA! And so I should give an opinion? HA, again!] There is need for prayer and much prayer. All the human science and prudence that there is cannot extricate the church from the present state of relaxation and confusion in which every section finds itself; the all-powerful arm of God is necessary. [Do I hear an “Amen”?]
As regards the bishops, very few of them possess genuine zeal for souls. Almost all religious communities – and one could omit the “almost”– are relaxed. As a result of the present state of general confusion, observance has collapsed and obedience is a thing of the past. The state of the secular clergy is still worse: so, in a word, there is a need for a general reform of all clerics and ecclesiastics if there is to be any improvement in the present great corruption of morals among the laity.[Let us begin with the discipline of our liturgical worship!]
So we have to pray to Jesus Christ that he would give us as head of the Church one possessed of more spirit and zeal for the glory of God than of learning and human prudence. He should be free of all party attachments and devoid of human respect. If, by chance, for our great misfortune, we should get a Pope that does not have the glory of God as his sole purpose, the Lord will not help him greatly and things from their present condition will go from bad to worse. However, prayer, which can provide a remedy for so many present ills, will move the Lord to put his hand to the problem and remedy the situation.
For this reason I have not only instructed all the communities of my humble Congregation to pray to God with greater fervor than ever for the election of the new Pontiff, but I have also instructed all the priests of my diocese, both secular and religious, to recite the prayer pro electione Pontificis in all Masses. [We should start doing this even now. Yes, Benedict is still Pope, but his intention is clear and who can imagine that he is not also praying for this?] I also hope that the Lord will inspire the Sacred College of Cardinals to instruct Papal Nuncios throughout the whole Christian world to see to it that this prayer is recited by every priest at Mass. This is the first advice that a miserable old man like myself can give. [And I, a miserable old blogger…]
I shall not omit to pray several times each day for the election of the Pope but what use will my frigid prayers be? Nevertheless, I trust in the merits of Jesus Christ and Our Lady that, before my death, which is now quite near on account of my years and the infirmities which afflict me, the Lord will grant me the consolation of seeing the church restored.
I assure you, my friends, that I desire, like yourself, to see remedies for so many and such unfortunate situations. In all this matter a thousand ideas circulate in my head which I feel like telling everybody about. [Not much of a blogosphere in 1774.] But, mindful of my own unworthiness, I have not the effrontery to publicize them lest I should appear to wish to reform the whole world. [sigh… I guess I do want to reform the whole world… but…] So I share these ideas with you not from any arrogance but for my own peace of mind. [I wish and pray that I were more perfect in my own motivations.]
Since there are many vacancies in the College of Cardinals, I would hope, in the first place, that the new Pope would select as cardinals from among the candidates proposed to him only the most learned and zealous for the good of the Church. [sigh] He should convey to the princes of the various countries in the very first letter announcing his election that when they wish to nominate candidates to be promoted as cardinals they should propose only those of proven piety and learning. Otherwise, he could not in conscience promote them. [Let us thank God that Pres. Obama cannot propose cardinals.]
I should like to see the new Pope being determined to refuse further benefices to those in the Church who are already well provided for in this respect with sufficient income for their appropriate maintenance. In this matter I should like to see him standing firm against all efforts to the contrary. [As affluence grows, very often a religious sense dies. This is perhaps the greatest challenge that this Pope addressed, for it concerns directly the “dictatorship of relativism”. It is surely going to be the biggest challenge for the next Pope, even in the face of the “emerging churches” which have so many pundits and Vatican observers so mesmerized.]
I wish that he would control the extravagance of all prelates. For this purpose he should determine precisely for everybody (otherwise there will be no remedy in this matter) the exact number of their retainers in accordance with what is appropriate for the different groups of prelates: so many butlers and no more; so many servants and no more; so many horses and no more. That will ensure that the enemies of the Church will have no further reasons for their criticism. [He is not saying that bishops in his time should not have a court. He is saying that the court shouldn’t be ridiculous.]
The new Pope should be vigilant to confer benefices only on those who have loyally served the Church and not just anybody indiscriminately. [We can translate this to “ecclesiastical offices” rather than “benefices”, which is a thing of the past. Although I am not sure we are better off now without them than they were with them. With human beings it’s going to be one problem or another.] He should use particular diligence in this choice of bishops since it is on them that the service of God and the salvation of souls mainly depends. He should pay great attention to informing himself beforehand about their moral conduct and their leaning, both of which are necessary for the good government of their dioceses. And as regards those bishops already in their dioceses, he should inform himself secretly from the metropolitans and others about their conduct, to ascertain if they are paying little attention to the good of their flock. [Not just delegate the choice and not just look at the surface of the record.]
I wish, furthermore, that he would let it be known to all and sundry bishops who are careless in their duties, who transgress in the matter of residence or in the luxury of their retinue or in excessive expenditure on furnishings, life-style, and similar matters, will be suspended or replaced by the appointment of vicars apostolic in order to remedy the situation. [How many bishops did Benedict remove? And of what sort were they?] It is important to make and example from time to time. [Taking one red hat would also make a point.] Examples of this sort will make other bishops take notice and moderate their extravagance accordingly.
I hope that the next Pope will be very slow in granting privileges which weaken good discipline in religious life. [Let the LCWR types read this thoughfully… (fat chance!)…] Such, for example, would be permission for enclosed sisters to leave the enclosure out of mere curiosity just to see the things of the world, readily to dispense from their vows and allow them to return to secular life – a practice from which many scandals result. Above all else I should hope that the Pope would be able to recall all religious to their primitive observances, at least in the most important matters. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]
That is all for now; I do not wish to bore you further. We can do nothing more than pray to the Lord that he will give us a Shepherd full of His Spirit, one who will be able to deal with the matters I have mentioned here briefly and all for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Accept my deep respects as I declare myself you Excellency’s devoted and humble servant.
Alfonso Maria, bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths.
As a bishop, he was talking about himself when talking about what bishops needed to be. He encountered not a little resistance in his lifetime.
The next Pope elected would be Pius VI, Braschi, Pope at the time of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. He was eventually taken prisoner by Napoleon and died in captivity in France in 1799 after one of the longest pontificates on record.
It would be great were some Redemptorist out there to hunt up the actual number of the letter.