In the May 15th edition of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Dan Neil writes:
[S]o I propose a radical solution: Robo-Pope.
If the role of the papacy is to hand down immutable canon law generation after generation, then the College of Cardinals should do away with the whole black-smoke, white-smoke drama and next install not Benedict XVII, but Pope Version 1.1. A cybernetic Holy Father could scarcely be more doctrinaire an rigid than the flesh-and-blood prototype, and would never be less. With Robo-Pope, the doctrine of papal infallibility would be a lot more persuasive. And besides, the long cassock would conceal the wheels.
I can across Dan Neil's comments this week as I was flying back to Ohio from Los Angeles. Perhaps they struck me so because I had just finished reading Ratzinger's own thoughts on the papacy [in relation to the liturgy]: In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority...is not 'manufactured' by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of [the Tradition's] lawful development and abiding integrity and identity.
Neil's cute attack on the papacy took place before he extolled the virtues of a robotic Paris Hilton: There are, in fact, many roles in which robots could serve as well or better than humans. While I have little invested in the impassioned defense of Paris Hilton's human dignity, Neil's comment did get me thinking back on the robo-Pope.
Hasn't a fair amount of Protestation taken place precisely because the human fallibility of the Pope seems hard to square with his perceived infallibility? From what little I know, most of us Protestants misunderstand papal infallibility (which I once heard is complicated by the fact that Vatican I's meditation on the same was cut short by the Franco-Prussian War), but that has not kept us from being suspicious of the Bishop of Rome's humanity nonetheless.
Ratzinger's words should give Protestants--and Popes--a reason to pause, if only because they remind us that the church seeks to preserve the truth that only God possesses (isn't this line of thought what allowed John Paul II to claim that Christianity is not an ideology?).
Were his words better measured, Neil's comments might have helped uncover the great and fleshy heart that pumps Eucharistic blood throughout Christ's body. Instead he is content to indulge that casual cynicism that sees the church as heartless, bloodless and hollow, existing only to tamp down the free, fun-loving spirits of people everywhere.
Whatever the differences that remain over the papacy (and after almost a thousand years of divisive arguing, they have been substantial), I for one was glad for the Pope's humanity when reading Neil's article--if only for the reminder that the work of God in Christ takes place in and for the human drama, something no robot could understand.