Newsletter of the District
- June 2005
Concerning the Election of the Next Pope
The following is Saint Alphonsus Liguori's thoughts on the election
of a new Pontiff. The letter was written to an unnamed bishop in
1774 before the election of Pope Pius VI. When we read what Saint
Alphonsus Liguori had to say in the late 18th Century,
we can hardly imagine what his comments would be today. To quote
Saint Alphonsus, "There is need for prayer and much prayer".
(Catholic Family News, April 1, 2005).
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
October 24, 1774
dear friend and Lord,
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? 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
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.
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
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. 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.
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. [Note: In fact, Saint Alphonsus would live
another 13 years. Ed.]
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. 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. So I share these ideas with you not from
any arrogance but for my own peace of mind.
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. 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.
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.
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.
new Pope should be vigilant to confer benefices only on those who
have loyally served the Church and not just anybody indiscriminately.
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.
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. It is important to make an example
from time to time. Examples of this sort will make other bishops
take notice and moderate their extravagance accordingly.
hope that the next Pope will be very slow in granting privileges
which weaken good discipline in religious life. 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.
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.
my deep respects as I declare myself your Excellency's devoted and
Maria, bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths.
(From Alphonsus de Ligouri; Selected Writings - The Classics
of Western Spirituality)
Cave of St Thomas the Apostle, in Madras, India