Sources including the Wall Street Journal report that the Pope is resigning, which has observers around the world all atwitter. The news is fascinating on multiple levels.
While I’m not looking forward to the inevitable avalanche of Catholic-bashing (which is in vogue today now more than ever in my life it seems), other interesting things to observe will be:
This is not be the first time a Pontiff has resigned although it’s been many centuries since that’s happened. It would appear that Benedict’s own statements that he didn’t really want to be Pope in the first place may have been more legitimate than cynics believed. It also opens up a new door to the world’s largest group of Christians: at this point, almost every Cardinal in a position to pick the new Pope will have been appointed by either John Paul II or his successor. No Cardinal over the age of 70 will be allowed to participate in the conclave, which means they’ll all be people who grew up in the wake of World War II and have been affected most of their lives by Vatican II. It should be interesting to see what new direction, if any, this heralds for the Church’s mission and focus. A clean break from scandals that rocked the Church over the last half of the 20th Century will also be possible.
Presumably Benedict will keep his title as Cardinal, although unless he rewrites the rules, he interestingly enough cannot vote in the conclave to replace him, although I’m sure he can make his thoughts or wishes known. This is because under current rules only Cardinals age 70 or under may vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope, and he’s significantly older than that.
As a Catholic I have nevertheless often been deeply uncomfortable with certain specific teachings on human sexuality and reproduction within the Church. While I don’t expect dramatic change (that’s just not something the Church is in the habit of doing–if it were it wouldn’t still be here) I’m hoping to see a few re-examinations in that area in my life time as well.
*Update*: CNN has a video report:
As transcribed by Vatican Radio
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.
Read more: http://www.kshb.com/dpp/news/world/full-text-pope-benedict-xvis-declaration-of-resignation#ixzz2Kbr5Gj9f
Many Catholics were taken aback by the decision.
“This was a huge shock to the church, nobody saw it coming [although there] might have been a few hints,” said Christopher Lamb, Assistant Editor at Catholic weekly The Tablet. “But in many ways given that if you are getting old and finding it very difficult to run the church it is only the right thing to step down.”
Reuters quoted a Vatican spokesman as saying the pontiff did not fear schism in the Church following his resignation.
But while the day-to-day running of the church would go on, big decisions such as appointing new bishops and issuing papal documents, would come to a halt until a new pontiff was chosen, Lamb said.
“At the top level of the church there will be a freeze,” he said.
A complex sequence of events to elect the next pope has been set in course by the pope’s announcement on Monday, although rules governing the selection are the same as those after a papal death.
“Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognize it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action,” he added.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that the pope’s announcement had “shocked and surprised everyone.”
The unexpected development – the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years – surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even his closest aides.
The Vatican says it expects a new Pope to be elected before Easter.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after John Paul II’s death.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the move has come as a shock – but adds that in theory there has never been anything stopping Pope Benedict or any of his predecessors from stepping aside.
Under the Catholic Church’s governing code, Canon Law, the only conditions for the validity of such a resignation are that it be made freely and be properly published.
But resignation is extremely rare: the last Pope to step aside was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 amid a schism within the Church.
A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that even Pope Benedict’s closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left “incredulous”. He added that the decision showed “great courage” and “determination”.
…………Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he was “greatly shaken by this unexpected news”.
The brother of the German-born Pope said the pontiff had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.
Talking from his home in Regensburg in Germany, Georg Ratzinger said his brother was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a “natural process”.
He added: “His age is weighing on him. At this age my brother wants more rest.”
The Pope is not expected to take part in the conclave that will choose his successor, and will then retire to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo when he leaves office.
Vatican watchers — the Italian press, which usually has excellent inside info on the papacy – was blindsided by the announcement. Not even the pope’s closest aides were privy to his decision.
Benedict – the former Cardinal Ratzinger – was always seen as a caretaker pope. Elected in 2005 at the age of 78 following the death of his predecessor John Paul II, Ratzinger was considered a placeholder for other candidates who were in their 50’s at the time and considered too young to fill the office.
In the last years of John Paul’s pontificate, Ratzinger headed up the powerful and influential office of Prefect for the Doctrine of Faith. He was able to place key allies in positions of power so that when the conclave met following the death of John Paul. his election was relatively smooth. It took only three days for the College of Cardinals to decide.
His statement on his resignation sets a precedent that may overturn 1800 years of church tradition that kept the pope at his post until his death.
-Andrew Sullivan has (as usual) a must-read roundup.
Pope Benedict’s announcement that he’s about to become the first Pope to resign since the 1500s gives the Catholic Church an opportunity–to deal with sex-abuse victims more honestly, and to wake up and listen to the parishioners who have been widely ignoring Church teaching for decades.
He says it’s for health reasons, and one look at him confirms the likelihood that that’s true. But we all know that it may not be the only reason. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was in charge of handling the child abuse scandals for the four years before he became Pope. There’s the well-know case in Munich, where as archbishop he allegedly reassigned a molesting priest who molested again. And if you’ve been following the revolting recent stories out of Los Angeles, Ratzinger would have been overseeing the handling of some of those cases, too.
Benedict XVI is one of the Church’s greatest living theologians, and has been a highly-respected leader of faith in his pontificate. It’s impossible not to compare him to his predecessor Blessed John Paul, whose pontificate lasted for decades and who had a tremendous impact on the world and governed the Church through a renewal of faith, but that comparison will probably be a little unfair to Benedict XVI. The manner of his leaving, though, begs for that kind of comparison. Blessed John Paul took the traditional route of holding the office to his death despite suffering from Parkinson’s, a disease that ravaged his body but left his mind clear. Benedict XVI makes explicit mention of concerns over the state of his “mind and body” and a deterioration in one or both that has created an “incapacity,” which leaves the impression that one of the most brilliant minds in the Church may be dimming, and that Benedict XVI has decided to forego the difficulties this would cause the Church and allow another to take his place. That itself is a significant sacrifice, and perhaps an important act of humility.
Needless to say, Benedict XVI will be in our prayers. In my life, I’ve only really known two Popes, and I’ve only been physically close to this one: when I traveled to Rome for the beatification of Blessed John Paul two years ago. Benedict XVI conducted the long ceremony and exhibited strength, joy, and faith. While I didn’t get to see him up close — I was actually just outside the wall and watched on a TV screen, surrounded by an estimated 3 million pilgrims — it was literally a life-changing experience, in ways that are still unfolding for me.
Benedict XVI helped guide the Church after the death of his larger-than-life predecessor, finishing his work and beginning his own. That transition was jarring: how do you follow the pontificate of a saint? Benedict XVI managed to do so with joy, faith, and determination, and perhaps it’s fitting that after having provided such a smooth transition to the post-JPII era of the Church, he’s been tasked with providing a smoother transition to his successor. We will pray for Benedict XVI in retirement, and for his successor to face the challenges of the next era.
I had to check to make sure today was not April 1 and that the hedline would not send me to The Onion……..
Pope Benedict is overthrowing a 600+ year old tradition that Popes die in office. And I think it may be the bravest thing he’s done in office.
The Catholic Church faces crises that require action: The Vatican Bank scandal, the ongoing fallout from the pedophile priest scandal, declining numbers of priests, and the secularization of Europe. The Church could not afford another lengthy period of inaction and indecision while waiting for a dying Pope to pass away. It needed a younger man. Now.
Pope Benedict thus had the vision and moral courage that John Paul II lacked. While I still regard JPII as the greatest Pope of my lifetime and possibly for much further back than that, he had flaws and clinging to office when he was obviously incapable of performing the tasks was one. His great example of emulating the Suffering Servant easily could have performed in retirement, while a younger man tackled the crises of the day instead of allowing them to fester through the last years of JPII’s reign.
I am honestly shocked. From what I am hearing from Fr. Jonathan Morris on FOX News right now, the man went into the role of Pope in the Catholic Church’s Vatican with hesitation, and maybe even halfheartedly. Basically he had intended to be somewhat retired at his age, spending time with his brother. This has not happened in over 600 years in the Church…
—The AP gives this timeline showing how rare a resignation is.
Pope Benedict said in a historic announcement he no longer had the mental and physical strength to run the Roman Catholic Church and would become the first pontiff in more than 700 years to resign, leaving his inner circle “incredulous”.
Church officials tried to relay a climate of calm confidence in the running of a 2,000-year-old institution but the decision could lead to one of the most uncertain and unstable periods in centuries for a Church besieged by scandal and defections.
The Church has been rocked during Benedict’s nearly eight-year papacy by child sexual abuse crises and Muslim anger after the pope compared Islam to violence. Jews were upset over rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier and there was scandal over the leaking of the pope’s private papers by his personal butler.
Best comment of the day so far: “The Pope is really setting a high bar for giving something up for Lent.”
Dean Esmay is the author of Methuselah’s Daughter. He has contributed to Dean’s World, Huffington Post, A Voice for Men, Pajamas Media. Neither left nor right wing, neither libertarian nor socialist.