Catching up on papal elections, church ‘divorce’ cases and the long-awaited Latin Mass liberation

I’ve been off for a few days (I wrote my posts in advance), so here are some quick thoughts on significant news:

1. Papal elections: Benedict XVI “now says”: that a two-thirds majority of cardinals is needed to elect a pope. Period. This had been the rule until JP II amended things only a decade ago so that only a simple majority would be needed after 13 days of voting (presumably, a deadlock of some kind).

Benedict apparently doesn’t like JP’s thinking on this one. A pontiff, Benedict seems to be saying, should be the clear choice of the cardinals.

As “John Allen”: told the NYT: “It is to make sure the pope does not look like a leader of a faction but of the entire church.â€?

2. Breakaway church lawsuit: A California Court of Appeal ruled this week that three Episcopal churches that left the Episcopal Diocese of LA cannot take their property with them. A lower court had ruled in favor of the dissident churches, which left the denomination to protest the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop.

This is an interesting, closely watched case because all the major mainline denominations fear that conservative congregations will seek to go their own way if they can take their church building and property. There are already numerous church “divorce” cases underway across the country.

How significant this decision may be is hard to say, though, because each state has its own property laws and precedents on these cases.

One of the really provocative things about these cases is that judges often examine the “structural” nature of a denomination. They consider whether a denomination is basically hierarchical — whether the mother church makes decisions that traditionally have to be followed — or basically congregational — with individual congregations maintaining significant decision-making power.

The 77-page California decision, which can be linked to from the bottom of this Episcopal Church “press release,”: includes this:

The constitution and by-laws of the general church plus the history of the local congregation and the “actions of the parties� (for example, by the secessionist pastor acknowledging the authority of the denomination before the split) provided not only substantial evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the denomination was hierarchical, but also established that the local congregation had never been a “‘strictly independent’� church “free of other ecclesiastical associations.�

3. It has been widely — widely — reported for months that Pope Benedict will soon make it easier for parishes to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. Currently, a priest or parish or group must obtain permission from their bishop to do so. Advocates for the Latin Mass have long said that many bishops are reluctant to grant such permission.

Yesterday, the German newspaper Die Welt and the German wire “”: reported that Benedict will release the long-awaited document about the Latin Mass next Saturday, July 7. He supposedly gave out copies to about 30 bishops at a recent meeting.

So the next stage of the debate will soon begin: What does it mean? Will large numbers of parishes begin, over several years, to celebrate the Latin Mass or will little change? Will Catholics rediscover the beauty and spirituality of the Latin Mass (as its advocates claim) or will they reject the old way? Will priests go for training so that they can celebrate the Mass or will they focus on coming changes to the English translation of the post-Vatican II Mass?

It will take years for this to play out, it seems.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.