A lesson from Don Quixote on the papal election

Windmill

Traditional Windmill by Vera Kratochvil (CC0 1.0)

It was Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish Shakespeare, who endeared the world to Don Quixote – a deluded old man who led futile charges against windmills thinking he was a knight in shining armor followed by loyal troops.

At 84, Swiss theologian Hans Kung seems to be closer to Don Quixote than to the theological reformer he thinks he is. He recently wrote in the New York Times:

“As the last active theologian to have participated in the Second Vatican Council (along with Benedict), I wonder whether there might not be, at the beginning of the conclave, as there was at the beginning of the council, a group of brave cardinals who could tackle the Roman Catholic hard-liners head-on and demand a candidate who is ready to venture in new directions. Might this be brought about by a new reforming council or, better yet, a representative assembly of bishops, priests and lay people?”

But Hans, whence come thy troops?

Sandro Magister has the answer:

Today it is the “fourth power,” that of the media, that is granting no truce to the cardinals called to conclave.

One of them has already fallen, the Scottish Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien. In one of his last acts as pope Benedict XVI expedited his resignation as archbishop of Edinburg, and he himself has announced that he will not go to Rome for the election of the new pontiff.

Another is former archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony, censured by his own successor, José Horacio Gómez.

A third is former archbishop of Brussels Godfried Danneels.

For all three, the matters of accusation concern that “filth” against which pope Ratzinger fought his strenuous battle.

Mahony and Danneels have so far resisted expulsion, but within the college of cardinals their authoritativeness is already practically nil.

And yet, just a few years ago, the three were on the crest of the wave. Among the nine votes that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the flagship candidate of the progressive cardinals opposed to the election of Ratzinger, received in the first scrutiny of the conclave of 2005, there were precisely those of O’Brien, Mahony, and Danneels.

Today almost nothing of this progressive current remains within the sacred college.

Isn’t it time for the “last active theologian” to reconsider the “active” part?