A Pope Resigns.

So. Big Catholic news today!

My initial response is that this action was perhaps motivated by Benedict’s experience under JPII during his long decline. From the outside, that looked to at least some of us like JPII witnessing to the worth and dignity of the elderly and frail, which was an importantly countercultural message to a world that worships youth and autonomy. But from the inside, it can’t have been easy for the rest of the crew to try to keep the bark of Peter on course when they couldn’t get to the wheel; and I think that Benedict’s resignation gives an equally important and valuable witness about acting responsibly and prudently in light of one’s own limitations. That’s a very creaturely, finite witness to give in a world that likes to pretend human limitations do not exist.

The timing seems extremely odd to me, however. Resignation effective in the middle of Lent? A conclave to elect a new pope by Easter?? It’s going to be a heck of a Lent.

Ecclesiologically, this is an extremely significant step. As both Fr. Joe Komonchak and Dr. Brian Flanagan observe, this act emphasizes the office of the papacy as primary, not the person of the pope. This is consistent with the understanding of the papacy in Lumen Gentium, and is at least a small step away from the monarchial or even imperial model of the papacy.

Other thoughts? Links? Reactions? Hopes, fears? Questions, especially from my non-Catholic readers? Prayers?


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12 Responses to A Pope Resigns.

  1. Slamdunk says:

    Though I am not Catholic, it does seem like odd timing. My prayers are with him though as it must be very difficult.

    • Thanks for the comment and the prayers. Somehow, it feels as if prayers from non-Catholics regarding the papacy are particularly special.

      Indeed, it must be difficult, both to accept one’s limitations and to resign from a position of such power when there is virtually no precedent for such a thing. Not to mention, to discern how to act as a resigning, and then resigned, pope; to resist the temptations to politic and influence from “beyond the chair,” so to speak. Let us pray he will have such wisdom and such strength.

  2. I meant to include the LWCR response, which I quote in its entirety:

    The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) thanks Pope Benedict XVI for his many years of tireless service to the Catholic Church and for the contributions he has made as a theologian, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pope. We respect his integrity in making what must have been a difficult decision to resign and promise him our prayer as he prepares to leave the papacy. May he be richly blessed for his profound dedication to the service of the Gospel.


  3. Paul says:

    Benedict strikes me as the George W. Bush of popes: an unabashed conservative who provokes a similarly polarizing reaction among his supporters and detractors. Maybe I’m way off on this, but that’s the sense I get. Of course, not being a fan of Bush, I haven’t been thrilled with Benedict either, so maybe I’m not being terribly fair.

    • I don’t think that is quite fair, Paul, though I can see why you would make the comparison. Even aside from the difference in their intellectual stature, Benedict has not actually been as “unabashedly conservative” as he could have been.

      I think the main reason that he has been so polarizing is his prior extended tenure as head of the CDF, whose job it is to exert a conservative force and patrol the bounds of defined doctrine. Given the state of the church at the time of his election, I suspect that any pope would have been polarizing; but his prior history with the CDF may have been a sufficiently aggravating factor that it’s worth considering whether this path to the papacy in future ought to be explicitly ruled out by canon law.

  4. ninjanurse says:

    It’s discouraging to see the enormous power of the Church in the US being put into the service of the Republican Party, to the point of parish priests telling their congregations who to vote for. I have much more respect for the lay Catholics and dedicated priests and nuns who are living the life than I do for the leadership.

    • It is discouraging, and very weird to me, considering we are only 50 years from intense suspicion that a Catholic politician would act under orders from Rome. :/
      What strange times we live in.

  5. Andrew says:

    >The timing seems extremely odd to me, however. Resignation effective in the middle of Lent? A
    >conclave to elect a new pope by Easter?? It’s going to be a heck of a Lent.

    Humor: I read a comment somewhere suggesting that Pope Benedict had totally won the “What are you going to give up for Lent” stakes

    >Other thoughts? Links? Reactions? Hopes, fears? Questions, especially from my non-Catholic
    >readers? Prayers?

    More seriously, do you expect (or hope) that Pope Benedict’s resignation will lead to future popes (and current and future bishops) to consider resignation? For that matter, up to this point in church history, how frequently have bishops resigned their offices?

    • Yes, I totally love the “what did the Pope give up for Lent” meme. 🙂

      To take your last question first, it is routine for bishops to resign their offices due to advanced age. It is in fact now mandatory under canon law for a bishop to submit his resignation to the pope when he turns 75; the pope may or may not accept it at that time. (I’m not familiar with the history of bishops resigning prior to the modern era.)

      My hope is that Benedict’s resignation will indeed set a precedent, and perhaps even an eventual change to canon law defining a resignation age for the pope. After all, it’s being “the bishop of Rome” that actually makes him the pope.

      But I think a lot will depend on what happens over the next few years, and the dynamics between the new pope, the former pope, the curia, the college of cardinals (of which the former pope will still be a member), the college of bishops, the media…

      Even supposing that the retired pope lives in complete seclusion, reading and writing privately, what happens to his papers after he dies?

      There’s a lot for the church to work out, and it’s virtually all ordinary human-factors stuff, not theology per se. A retired bishop usually lives quietly either in his own former diocese or somewhere else… but a retired bishop didn’t have as much power or status or celebrity or connections or as many subordinates and bureaucratic functionaries as the pope, so it’s not really comparable.

      Interesting times, for sure!

  6. Pingback: Feast of the Chair of St. Peter | Gaudete Theology

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