Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Abandonment issues

When I was four, my parents divorced. It was 1970, and the Divorce Tsunami hadn't hit the general population yet. No-Fault, easy divorce was still a few years away. There was still a stigma, believe it or not.

I don't remember much about it except one episode in the car with my mother on the way home from (paternal) Grandma and Grandpa's house. My mother had told my grandparents (who I think liked me and my mother better than their son) and then on the way home she explained it as best she could to me. The only thing I remember asking was, "Will Daddy still be my daddy?" I think at that point, I was the only one in the family who still liked him.

When Benedict announced his resignation, I'd been up late the night before and was napping. My phone rang under my pillow and I blearily answered it. It was a friend of mine from the US who had been up very early indeed looking at the news on the internet after getting a phone call from a mutual friend in Rome, telling him what had happened.

He didn't mince any words, "Pope Benedict has resigned."

"What?!" He said it again, and I told him that this was just meaningless noise. Those words didn't make any sense.

"If a pope can painlessly walk away from his relationship with the Catholic flock, why do divorced laypeople need annulment?"


Divorce is verboten. Papal resignation is not: It was officially authorized by Pope Celestine V in 1294 (who then took the opportunity to step down, five months into his term). But between Celestine V and Benedict XVI, only Gregory XII resigned, to end a schism involving three claimants to the papal throne. Pope Benedict is the first to abdicate because of age and infirmity. The tradition and expectation is that once elected, you are pope until you death do you part.

What does that have to do with Gwyneth Paltrow? The idea behind conscious uncoupling is that divorce needn't be a devastatingly painful separation, and that both halves of the couple can take positive things from the relationship if they drop the shame, guilt, and regret and regard one another as teachers, and divorce as a natural part of our modern lives.

This is an aspect of that event that very few are willing to talk about. He ditched us. If the reasons he gave were the true ones ("I'm tired"... seriously? We're just supposed to go with that?) then he just walked away to a quiet retirement, with a little wave and a smile, like a feckless deadbeat dad.

"You're on your own now, thanks for all the prayers."

It would hardly be surprising if some of us were harbouring a little forbidden, guilty anger with him for it.

When I was a kid in the 70s there was a kind of explosion of "groups" you could go to and talk about your feeewings about things. All kinds of "groups" where you were supposed to shaaare how you felt about this or that childhood trauma or whatever. When I was about 8 or 9, a popular type was, "Talk about your parents' divorce" groups. We were told a lot that it was OK to feel angry about it, and that it wasn't our fault, and that feeling angry and then feeling guilty about feeling angry, was all a normal reaction, which I suppose is true.

Abandonment by a parent is something that kind of sticks with you. And we have a whole western world now living permanently in a state of psycho-emotional post-divorce trauma.

This might not have been the best possible historical moment for him to decide to go "find himself" or practice piano.



Seraphic said...

I know. And I think pope-as-father-figure is more important than it ever was, given how many kids are now left fatherless.

A few things get me through.

First, I was sternly discouraged as a child from papolatry. I think about JP II more now than I ever did when he was alive. I grew up a believing Catholic without reading any papal document or speech. It was a shock to me when seven years into his pontificate, I first heard JP II speaking what he then thought was English. (His English improved over the years.) Now I read JP II's theology, and so I think better of him now than I did then, for I did not much like his public persona or get his Polish sense of humour.

I just do not understand Catholics who instantly fall in love with popes, especially when it's some random guy they're never heard of. Roman crowds are a lot more practical: "Polacco? Perché?" Bergoglio? Chi é?" The crowds going crazy for Benedict made sense because they actually knew him and had known him for years.

Second, we all watched JP II die by inches, but Benedict got a ringside seat. If the contemporary, post-sex scandal, post-Vatican II, lavender-mafia infiltrated Church needs a hale and hearty man to fight off the wolves, then nobody could have seen that more clearly than Benedict. I wonder who he thought would be elected.

Third, it is possible for some reason Benedict feared that not to abdicate would lead him or others straight to hell. I can't imagine what that reason might be, but it's a somewhat comforting thought. It's certainly a more comforting thought than that the abdication = adulterous second marriages being a-okay.

For example, after the major domo thing, Benedict may have thought "They hate me. They really hate me, and if they keep on hating me, they will go to hell. So better give way to a guy they will love, and thus they will more easily choose hearts of flesh over hearts of stone."

Anyway, I think you are entitled to feel annoyed. I'm annoyed too. Having to break the news to my Benedict-adoring anglo-papalist convert husband was not fun. Oh, and on top of the abdication, we had Cardinal O'Brien admitting to sexual misconduct and being literally banished from Scotland. So you know: put not your faith in princes and all that.

To think I was ever mad at my ex-United Church mum for our lack of Catholic pop(e) cultural stuff. She was really doing us a favour.


Gerard Brady said...

I remember the shock on my wife's face when (prior to our engagement) I told her that whatever happened I would never divorce her. She was Anglican at the time and the child of a pretty ugly divorce. I had grown up in Ireland and the notion that you could just dump your spouse when boredom set in was beyond me. I have always liked that scene from Goodfellas where in discussing one characters wayward behaviour De Niro's character states, "she'll never divorce you - she might kill you but she'll never divorce you"!

Suzanne said...

I feel like Pope Benedict is like the grandpa I never had.

There is strictly nothing that obliges a pope to stick around. He is expected to stick around until he dies, but it's not obligatory. An expectation does not amount to a theological requirement. St. Celestine V quit because he understood he was completely incompetent and his resignation was the right decision. It was a sign of humility. I have enough confidence in him to believe that if he resigned it was genuinely for the greater good of the Church; it was a sign of humility. If Christ had sent him the sign to stay on, he would have done so voluntarily. But he was getting old and he felt the Church needed a lucid shepherd.

And I'm happy because now we have Pope Francis and I love him too. And no, it wasn't instant love. It wasn't just his widely mediatized antics that made me love him, it's how he is genuinely committed to the faith of the Church. He genuinely believes in the devil, in hell and repentance and in living the true love of Christ.

Anonymous said...

There was still a stigma, believe it or not.

I remember it. I'm sad it's gone.

I wish there had been a "group" I could have gone to where someone told me what I was feeling about my parents' divorce was ok. Or even if I had just heard anyone at all say "I'm so sorry."

Instead it was "all good."

I miss Benedict.

Louise L

Anonymous said...

I assumed Benedict was living a life of prayer, and if you believe in the reality and power of prayer, then that is a much different thing than "finding himself."

As a very old man, he was carrying the weight of the Universal Church on his shoulders, and had done so courageously for years - he was bearing much more than any other person living, and at an age when everyone else is hobbling around in a walker and taking multiple naps.

For him to admit that maybe his old age and infirmity was preventing him from doing a good job seems like both a great act of courage and humility.

To assume that we know everything going on behind the scenes is also presumptuous and prideful. He departed from tradition, yes, but he didn't do anything "illegal."

I understand feeling sad that he resigned - I loved him and his writings. But to be so bitter, to make his choice so personal, seems rather narcissistic. This isn't about you. It's about the good of the Church, and I think if we can trust anything, we can trust that Benedict held that close and put that first in the decisions he made.

- Mary

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Oh Suzanne, go away. I don't like to be nauseated by my own commbox.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

So, Mary,

you're saying I *should* feel guilty about my anger, and be ashamed of my feelings...

good to know, thanks.

Now buzz off and take the Pollyanna with you.

Steve T. said...
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