Monday, February 11, 2013

The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.

With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation on Monday at the Vatican. At left is Msgr. Franco Camaldo, a papal aide. Source: L'Osservatore Romano, via Associated Press

Some points to note regarding Benedict's abdication (Via Frederico Lombardi, SJ, Vatican Spokesman (HT: Commonweal):

Pope Benedict XVI has given his resignation freely, in accordance with Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law.

Pope Benedict XVI will not take part in the Conclave for the election of his successor.

Pope Benedict XVI will move to the Papal residence in Castel Gandolfo when his resignation shall become effective.

When renovation work on the monastery of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican is complete, the Holy Father will move there for a period of prayer and reflection

Have you ever thought of resigning?

When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. One must stand fast and endure the difficult situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.

Is it possible then to imagine a situation in which you would consider a resignation by the Pope to be appropriate?

Yes, if a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically , psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has the obligation to resign.

Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times (2010)

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI Says He Will Resign (New York Times February 11, 2012:

After examining his conscience “before God,” he said in a statement that reverberated around the world on the Internet and on social media, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics. ...

While there had been questions about Benedict’s health, the timing of his announcement sent shock waves around the world, even though he had in the past endorsed the notion that an incapacitated pope could resign.

“The pope took us by surprise,” said Father Lombardi, who explained that many cardinals were in Rome on Monday for a ceremony at the Vatican and heard the pope’s address. Italy’s prime minister, Mario Monti, said he was “very shaken by the unexpected news.”

According to the Associated Press, "The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants."

Considering, however, that Joseph Ratzinger was already 78 -- one of the oldest popes in history when elected -- and had by the time of his election petitioned Pope John Paul II twice to resign his post as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (requests which John Paul II in his wisdom had denied), the Holy Father's decision, while shocking, is to me also understandable, being the recognition, made with a clear mind, that he has reached a point in life where he no longer has the capacity to fulfill the requirements of the office.

The Pope's Health

News of the Holy Father's resignation of course have sparked concerns about his health and well-being.

  • The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Benedict has a pacemaker, and has undergone a routine surgery three months ago to have the batteries replaced. However, ""That hasn't affected his decision [to resign] in any way and simply he felt that his strength was diminishing with the advancement of age," Father Lombardi said. (BBC News, 2/13/13).

  • Peter Seewald, the German journalist and author of several book-length interviews with the Holy Father, recalls a meeting last August in which he inquired what could be expected of the Pope and his papacy:
    Seewald said Benedict replied: “From me? From me, not much more. I am an old man and my strength is running out. And I think what I have done is enough.”

    Asked whether he was considering resignation, Seewald said that Benedict responded: “That depends to what extent my physical strength will compel me to.”

    According to the Los Angeles Times, Seewald said of the same encounter that his hearing had deteriorated and he appeared to have gone blind in his left eye:
    “His body had become so thin that the tailors had difficulty in keeping up with newly fitted clothes. ... I'd never seen him so exhausted-looking, so worn down,” he told Focus, a German magazine, on Saturday.

  • From "The Vatican Insider" (La Stampa), news that the Pope’s decision to resign came after his fall in Mexico:
    The Pope’s decision to renounce the papacy was taken after his trip to Mexico and Cuba, when the Pope suffered a head injury and his collaborators treated him in secret. ...

    This incident, which was seen as irrelevant at the time, has been interpreted quite differently by the prelate who was part of the papal entourage, in light of the public revelation made by the director of L’Osservatore Romano. “That day, after dinner – he said – I was told about the jokes exchanged between the Pope and his personal doctor. As he treated the Pope’s head wound, Dr. Patrizio Polisca had remarked: “You see Holy Father why I am so critical of these trips?” With that dash of irony which is so familiar to those who know Benedict XVI well, the Pope replied: “I am also critical...”.”

    The prelate was keen to add that “ it was really important for the Pope to embrace the Mexican people, all the crowds of faithful in that big country which had been the first nation to welcome Benedict XVI’s predecessor at the start of his pontificate. But he was also aware of the fact that he no longer had the physical strength to deal with such long journeys, the jetlag that followed and the burden of public commitments.”

Additional News

  • Q&A on Benedict's bombshell John Allen, Jr. (National Catholic Reporter 2/12/13.

  • Pope to live in Vatican monastery established by Blessed John Paul II, by Cindy Wooden. Catholic News Agency, 2/12/13.

  • Benedict will be prayerful presence in next papacy, spokesman says, by Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden. Catholic News Agency, 2/12/13:
    In response to questions about how a conclave and a new papacy will be played out while a former pope is still alive and living in the vicinity, Father Lombardi said, "there will be absolutely no problem" because Pope Benedict is a discreet and "extremely scrupulous" person. No one would ever expect from him any "interference or comments that would cause even minimal awkwardness or problems for his successor," he said.

    "Rather, his successor will feel supported by the prayers and intensely loving presence and interest from someone who, more than anyone in the world, can understand and be interested in the worries of his successor," the priest said.

    "Pope Benedict will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of the election," the spokesman said, "and not intervene in any way in the process," he said.

  • Pope will have security, immunity by remaining in the Vatican Reuters. 2/15/13.

  • Pope Benedict will get a pension worth €2,500-a-month, by Michael Day. The Independent UK.:
    When the Pope steps down on 28 February, he will take with him only personal effects and gifts, his piano, his cats and private letters. Everything else – including books, furniture, and documents – will remain in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

    The Holy See spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said a “distinction will be made between official church documents and personal ones.”

  • Special Report: The loneliness of the short distance pope, by Philip Puella. Reuters 2/22/13. An exploration of the various factors that might have contributed to the Pope's decision.

Reactions and Commentary

  • Can the Pope Resign?, Fr. Thomas J. Reese, SJ. (Author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church):
    Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable. As Paul VI said, paternity cannot be resigned. In addition, Paul feared setting a precedent that would encourage factions in the church to pressure future popes to resign for reasons other than health. Nevertheless, the code of canon law in 1917 provided for the resignation of a pope as do the regulations established by Paul VI in 1975 and John Paul II in 1996. However, a resignation induced through fear or fraud would be invalid. In addition, canonists argue that a person resigning from an office must be of sound mind (canon 187).
  • B16 Resigns: The US Response Rocco Palmo, Whispers in the Loggia 2/11/12. Rocco also remarks:
    Beyond the statement, no timetable or other parameters are currently known on the holding of a Conclave – we're in very uncharted territory here, folks, so please be patient. The lone item of canon law to even mention a pontiff's resignation is Canon 332, paragraph 2, which states that "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone."

    Along the same lines, there is no protocol whatsoever for the titles or status of a retired Pope. ...

    Under the operative norms governing Conclaves in the wake of a Pope's death, the voting college is to start the election between 15 and 20 days from the moment of the vacancy. In this case, however, the traditional novemdiales – the nine days of official mourning before the election – would not apply.

    Now comprised of 118 voting members younger than 80, the College as a whole – retirees included – governs the church during a papal interregnum.

  • A Pope Resigns: What sort of man does the Church need now?, by Gerard V. Bradley, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. National Review 2/11/13.

  • Reason's Revolutionary, by Dr. Samuel Gregg. National Review 2/11/13.

  • Benedict XVI’s Act of Humility by Kathryn Jean Lopez. National Review 2/11/13.

  • Franciscan University of Steubenville Reacts to News of Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation Announcement, thoughts from Father Terence Henry, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville; Dr. Alan Schreck, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Dr. Regis Martin and Father Sean Sheridan.

  • A Final Act of Papal Teaching, by Vincent Miller (America):
    From the beginning of his papacy, in the shadow of John Paul—then called “the Great”—Benedict has struck a lower profile. Of course he lacked his predecessor’s charisma, but his gestures were so often intentional. At his first World Youth Day, he turned from an adoring crowd chanting “Ben-ne-det-to” in silence to face the Eucharist in benediction.

    His resignation continues this strand of his papacy—a reduction of the office in a way, subordinating it to tradition.

  • Benedict: Far from the First Pope to Resign, by Dr. Jeff Mirus (Catholic Culture): "The resignation of a pope is a rare event but not an unprecedented one, as some early reports would have had us believe."

  • The Reason Benedict Resigned, by William Fahey, Dr. William Edmund Fahey is President and Fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire (Crisis):
    Benedict’s resignation is utterly consistent with his character. It is traditional—he brings from our history and our law a fact and feature of the Papal Office: one can and—under certain circumstance—should put aside that office.

    His resignation demonstrates once again the firm mark of a father and a teacher. A father knows that his role is to provide example, instruction, and discipline, and ultimately put himself aside for the good of his own. The Petrine ministry is not exercised for a man, or for bishops and priests, or even for Catholics alone. It is a ministry exercised for all those seeking God and for all those towards whom God’s mercy is extended. . . .

  • An Evangelical Looks at Pope Benedict XVI, by Russell D. Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: "As Pope Benedict steps down, I think it’s important for us to recognize the legacy of the last two bishops of Rome that we ought to honor and conserve: an emphasis on human dignity."

  • A Turbulent Tenure for a Quiet Scholar, by Laurie Goodstein (New York Times 2/11/13).

  • Reuters asks: Why Didn't Pope Benedict Tweet Resignation News?:
    It could have been the tweet of the century.

    But Pope Benedict decided not to announce his resignation on Twitter, which he joined last year in a foray into social media that has reaped uncertain spiritual returns and could be curtailed by his successor.

    Obviously keen to avoid any leak of his resignation - which would have been a risk as his tweets are typed up by an aide - the pope announced it in person, in Latin, to a restricted group of cardinals. The video was then given to the world’s media.

  • Benedict: Last of the Heroic Generation, by R.R. Reno (First Things).

  • Conclave and the Media: The Silly Season (Creative Minority Report):
    Barely 48 hours after the announcement of Pope Benedict's retirement and the approach of a new conclave, the progressive kooks have come out of the woodwork. In 2005, after a generation of John Paul II and watching their 70s progressive dreams stall and slowly lose favor, aging dissident Catholics had hope that finally they would have the progressive Pope of their dreams.

    Op-ed pages across the country and the globe were filled with impious lectures from those hold neither the tenets of the faith or understand what the Church is telling the world what the Church really needs. Of course, what the world really needs, it turns out, is a Pope just like them. Instead, to their (laughable) shock, they got Joseph Ratzinger.

    So again, with the approach of a conclave, the silly season begins again.

  • Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia) revisits Pope Benedict's November 2012 visit and greeting to the "Viva Gli Anziani" (Long Live the Elderly) Home, in which he came "as Bishop of Rome -- but also as an old man, visiting his peers." 2/11/13.

  • A compilation of reactions to the Holy Father's announcement of his resignation (abdication?) from the See of Peter. (Aletia 2/12/13).

  • The Papal Resignation: Background and Consequences - Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Fr. John Jay Hughes, a former student of Ratzinger, Church historian and priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. ("None of us now living will ever experience a Lent like this one.")

  • Resigned to Confusion - Mollie Wilson O'Reilly on the confusion of how one should properly label the Pope's decision: resignation? renunciation? abdication?

  • Benedict’s Decision in the Light of Eternity, by Rev. George W. Rutler. Crisis 2/13/13.:
    The personality cults of our present age had to a degree shaped the young in the Church who had only known one pope. A most attractive charism of Benedict XVI has been his desire to vanish so that the faithful might see only Christ: “cupio dissolvi.” He strengthened the papacy by vaulting sanctity over celebrity. In a grand paradox, nothing in him has become so conspicuous as his desire to disappear. Christ gave the Keys to a Galilean fisherman with a limited life span. He chose Peter; Peter did not choose Him. When the pope relinquishes the Petrine authority, he does not submit a letter of resignation to any individual, for the only one capable of receiving it is Christ. This is why “renunciation” or “abdication” is a more accurate term than “resignation” in the case of the Supreme Pontiff. Unless this is understood, the danger is that a superficial world will try to refashion the pope into some hind of amiable but transient office holder.

  • Benedict Will Still Be There for Us, by Scott Hahn. (National Catholic Register 2/14/13: "On the morning of Feb. 11, and well into the evening, I found almost unbearable the thought of this man fading from my life."

  • Carol Zaleski on "The Humble Pope" (New York Times 2/11/13)
    Pope Benedict’s announcement that he is retiring — made on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick, on the threshold of an early Lent — was his “Nunc dimittis,” his “I will diminish,” his final summons to a weary church to look beyond politics and the calculus of power, and to recover its real sources of renewal. Even the “spiritual but not religious” set might be intrigued by a pope who, by resigning his position, admits not only his own frailty but that of the throne on which he has been seated. What I see in Pope Benedict XVI is not the shade of one who through cowardice made the great refusal, but the substance of one who through humility and wisdom made the great acceptance.

  • Benedict's resignation shifts focus from pope's personality to pope's office, by Joshua J. McElwee. National Catholic Reporter 2/13/13. "Don't call it Pope Benedict's resignation. Call it Joseph Ratzinger's exit from the papal office: The pope's surprise announcement Monday fundamentally alters Catholics' perceptions of popes to come."

  • Michael Barber wonders if Could it be that Benedict, who is well known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Church Fathers, is taking a page not simply from Gregory XII, the last pope to resign (1415), but also from Gregory the Great (540-604)? (The Sacred Page 2/11/13).

  • Pope Benedict resigned to avoid arrest, seizure of church wealth by Easter -- or so the The International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State would have you believe. Peter Bradley (Lex Communis) dismantles the specious attacks and explains why "blaming Ratzinger in some fashion for covering-up or enabling sex abuse against minors because of Crimen Solicitationis is misguided. It is like blaming the Securities and Exchange Commission for not taking a firm enough stand against bank robbery."

  • A Farewell to Pope Benedict from the General House of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter:
    With humility and courage, Benedict XVI has been - for eight years - at the helm of the barque of Peter, facing many storms, concern with leading souls to safe harbor. Giving the example of a deep interior life, he has refocused the attention of the Catholic faithful on the foundations of the faith, alerting them to all forms of relativism, and explaining the recent Magisterium in the light of Tradition. Concerned with the restoration of sacredness, he reconciled the Roman Church with her bimillennial liturgical heritage. A tireless apostle for ecclesial unity, he engaged, in particular, in dialogue with the Society of Saint Pius X, with a view to reaching full reconciliation. This concern of the Pope is particularly dear to us, and recalls the care which he brought to our foundation in 1988, when he aided John Paul II as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • Sydney Morning Herald 2/12/13. An Italian journalist who beat the world's media on Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign got the scoop on the utterly unexpected news thanks to her knowledge of Latin.

  • Benedict XVI’s resignation is a first for Canon Law by Luca Rolandi. La Stampa "The Vatican Insider" 2/11/13. Vatican Insider interviews Giovanni Battista Varnier, Professor of the History of Relations between State and Church at the University of Genoa on Benedict XVI’s shocking and historic decision.

  • The challenge Pope Benedict has left for his successor—and for ordinary Catholics, by Phil Lawler (Catholic Culture):
    In retrospect we can see that Pope Benedict has been preparing for his own departure. If he has been contemplating resignation for months, as his brother reports, it is much easier to understand why he called two consistories within the space of one year. He wanted to ensure an appropriate balance within the College of Cardinals, among the men who will choose his successor. He chose to step down now, no doubt, so that he will not leave that successor burdened with too many tasks that he himself was unable to complete.

    So now Pope Benedict has left us, the faithful, with a task of our own. We have a day to swallow the news of his resignation, and another day to digest it. Then Ash Wednesday will arrive, and we must all buckle down to a season of prayer and fasting for the good of the Church, and especially for the strength of Benedict’s successor.

  • Cardinal Arinze praises Pope's courageous decision to resign, by Gerard O'Connell. [Interview]. "The Vatican Insider" La Stampa 2/23/13.

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