Just a week before Pope Benedict made the surprise announcement of his imminent abdication there was an article in the New York Times about voters and elections. The writer, Sam Wang, an associate professor at Princeton University, pointed out that in the 2012 elections for the United States House of Representatives, the candidates of the Democratic Party received 1.4 million more votes than the candidates of the Republican Party. Yet the Republicans won control of the House by 234 seats to 201.
This undemocratic result comes from the party in power arranging electoral districts so that their party will have narrow victories in many districts while the other party will have large victories in fewer districts. Such an arrangement of electoral districts is known as gerrymandering, and it frustrates the democratic system.
As Catholics we are often reminded by our religious authorities that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. Yet in many ways the Church does act democratically. In the Vatican II Council for instance, the bishops arrived at final decisions by a system of majority voting. In the coming Conclave in Rome to name the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, the new Pope will be the candidate who receives two-thirds of the Cardinals’ votes.
But there are some who question if the Conclave Cardinals are really representative of the international character of the Catholic Church in today’s world. At the beginning of last year Pope Benedict named 22 new Cardinals. 16 were from Europe, 3 from North America, 1 from Latin America and 2 from Asia. Many were surprised at the strong European and Western presence in these nominations, when more than half the Catholics in the world are now living in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the statistics in the 2012 Vatican Yearbook.
Towards the end of 2012 Pope Benedict called an extraordinary Consistory to name 6 more Cardinals, none of them from Europe. One was from North America, 1 from Latin America, 3 from Asia and 1 from Africa. It seemed like a gesture from the Pope to compensate for the imbalance of the earlier Consistory.
But it was a feeble gesture and the total picture of the Cardinals in the Church is still one of gross imbalance. Latin America, Africa and Asia have a total of 797 million Catholics, or 68.2% of Catholics in the world. Between them they have 41 Cardinals. Europe and North America have a total of 76 voting Cardinals while they account for just 363 million Catholics, or 31% of world Catholics. Oceania accounts for about 9 million Catholics, 0.9 % of the world total. They have 1 Cardinal.
Maybe the Church will decide some day to choose the Pope by drawing lots, as the Apostles did in replacing Judas (Acts 1, 26). But until that day comes, the growing millions of Catholics who live in the vibrant churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America deserve a proportionate voice in deciding who is best qualified to lead their Church on earth now and in the future.
Last week when I was checking on Saint Bartholomew’s links with the people of Armenia, I found his name associated with another historical event. That event is known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and it took place in Paris, France on August 24,1572.
After Martin Luther rebelled in 1517, many French nobles were attracted to Protestantism by the teaching of the French theologian John Calvin, who broke from the Catholic Church around 1530. The French Protestants were known as Huguenots, and they constituted about fifteen per cent of the French population.
Charles IX was king of France. His mother Catherine de Medici believed that the Protestant nobles were trying to influence her son to go to war against Catholic Spain. She convinced Charles that they were planning to revolt against him and take over the French throne.
So Charles and Catherine made plans to kill the leaders of the group when they were in Paris to celebrate the marriage of their leader Henry of Navarre to the king’s sister Margaret.
Just before dawn on August 24th the attack began, and the leaders were assassinated. But it did not stop there. The mob seemed to take the assassinations as a signal to attack Protestants everywhere in France. In Paris alone an estimated 3,000 were killed. This became known as Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Despite the king’s pleas for peace, the killings continued for several weeks, and 70,000 more died throughout France.
Pope Gregory XIII, who had become Pope in May of 1572, seemed to interpret these deaths as divine intervention and wanted to associate himself with it. Perhaps he received poor advice, or maybe he just judged the situation badly. For whatever reason, he had a medal struck to commemorate the event.
On one side of the medal was Gregory’s facial profile with the words, “Gregorius XIII Pont Max” On the other side was a winged angel, sword in one hand and cross in the other, standing over several dead bodies, with the words, “Ugonuttorum Strages 1572” (Slaughter of the Huguenots 1572).
This Papal gesture hurt the image of the Catholic Church, and did enormous damage to the promotion of religious tolerance. It contradicted the very role of one who claimed to be “Pontifex Maximus” (the Supreme Pontiff or Bridge-Builder).
I would rather remember Gregory XIII as the Pope who gave the world the Gregorian calendar in 1582, than as the Pope who ordered the controversial commemorative medal in 1572.
And I prefer to think of Saint Bartholomew in his happy association with the Christian people of Armenia, than of Saint Bartholomew in his involuntary association with one of the darker deeds in the history of France.