Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict's Resignation

Like most of you, my reaction upon hearing of the resignation of our Holy Father Benedict XVI was one of shock and disbelief mixed with sadness and no little bit of frustration. Before we say anything further about this momentous decision on the part of our Holy Father, let us listen to the pope's words from his own mouth:

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

I was on my way to work when I heard this on the radio. I pulled over and idled on the shoulder, cars passing me by as I sat in stunned disbelief at the news of the first papal resignation since 1415.

The first emotions that came over me were those of frustration and of anger that the pope would lay down his charge in such an unprecedented manner. While there have been papal resignations in history, those that I know of have not occurred without some sort of pressure; I am thinking of Celestine V and Gregory XII, who, while they both resigned technically of their own free will, did not do so without considerable pressure from outside events, the former by the part of Cardinal Gaetani (later Boniface VIII), and the latter by the pressure to end the Western Schism.

In a way, though Benedict emphasizes the freedom of his decision, he, too, is under constraint by the nature of the body and the weakening of the flesh and mind. My first thought upon hearing his explanation about being too old and weak and about the demands of "today's world" on the papacy was that it was a cop-out. Whatever one thinks of John Paul II, one thing that must be said in his praise is that he showed the world how to courageously face death. Benedict, however, has stated that it was largely the example of John Paul II that led him to consider resignation - that he did not want to go through a long period of anguished incapacitation that characterized the last years of John Paul II. This upset me; the papal throne is an elected office, but it is still a royal one - the pope is a monarch, and a king is a king forever.

But I think my initial discouragement may have been out of line. I reflected that, if Benedict does want to avoid a long, drawn out decline, I do not believe the motivation is fear of pain or public suffering; but what other motivation could he have? Then I began thinking that perhaps the reason he wants to avoid following John Paul II's example is not due to fear of publicly experiencing pain or suffering, but due to the fact that when the pope is not capable of governing, the Curia and the various congregations run amok. It is the principle of "when the cat's away the mice will play." Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, probably saw this principle at work during all the years of John Paul's illness. Perhaps he saw what disorder and chaos the Vatican was plunged into when the pontiff lacks the ability to effectively direct his Curia and wanted to preempt a situation like that by enabling the papacy to transfer directly from him to another without a drawn-out, informal interregnum of senility. The increasing lack of control he has been able to exercise over the Vatican bureaucracy even while he is alert may have led him to ruminate on how worse the situation could be if he were not alert.

Yet, even if that were the motivation, we can't really pretend that the problem of curial shenanigans or sick popes is a new one. This has always been an issue, and why "today's world" merits a different approach than that which the popes have always maintained throughout the ages is difficult to understand. In a certain sense, this is indicative of everything that has concerned Traditionalists all these years - that "today's world" somehow requires an approach that is different from what the Church has always done; that the examples of the popes and saints from antiquity on through the centuries need to be tweaked and updated for "modern man", who is somehow different from his predecessors; that what "today's world" needs is a faster, more efficient "Church 2.0."

But to give the pope some credit here, there is another possible way we could construe his words, one that does make a little bit more sense. In the old days, due to the state of medical knowledge, it is the case that a pope who got really sick would not linger on for years and years. If John Paul II would have been pope in the 14th century, he would have died a lot sooner than he did. If Benedict were pope in the 9th century, that little accident several years back where he slipped and fractured his hip would have been the end of him. So, while the papacy itself has not changed, it is true that only in the modern world do we now have the likely possibility of a pontiff lingering on and on into extreme old age and senility, which pallative care and top-notch medical treatments could prolong for years. Damian Thompson has pointed out in his post on Benedict's resignation that such a prolonged period of senility can have disastrous consequences for the Church. He cites the example of Fr. Marcel Maciel:

"John Paul II rather than Benedict XVI can be accused of turning a blind eye to certain abominations, not least to those of the Mexican child abuser the late Fr Marcel Maciel, whom Benedict sent into disgraced exile as soon as he became Pope. One reason Maciel was not dealt with in time was that John Paul II was too ill and, let us be honest, mentally enfeebled to confront Maciel's crimes. Ratzinger has been determined from the beginning not to allow the same situation to overtake him."

In other words, the fundamental question is will the sorts of prolonged periods of incapacitation such as characterized the last years of John Paul II be the norm for modern pontiffs? Whether or not we agree with Thompson's assessment of this vis-a-vis the Maciel case, I don't think anyone disagrees that these long periods of decrepitude are good for the Church government. The question is how can they be dealt with.

So, when all is said and done, is Benedict's decision then a kind of "spiritual euthanasia", such that he wants the Church to put his pastoral office out of its misery before it becomes too enfeebled and burdensome on the whole Church and ends up facilitating more scandal and embarrassment? If so, is he setting a new precedent that popes can and ought to resign when things get difficult, as if they were Prime Ministers or politicians? Is this good for the Church and the institution of the papacy?

This is all just speculation. I don't doubt the pope's sincerity of motive one bit. I do question whether this will set a good precedent in the Church. Once a pope resigns, it will increase the pressure on any future pope to resign who may be unpopular or sick or that people are just getting tired of. We also have to be aware that there really is no protocol for what has to be done to facilitate the transition of power to a new pontiff when the previous pontiff is still living. The last pontiff to resign, Gregory XII, did so in the context of an ecumenical council. The last before him, Celestine V, was imprisoned after his resignation to forestall any possibility of a schism. Though papal schisms seem to be a thing of the past, it is very true that there is a real danger that this transition could turn into a schism if it is not done properly.

One last thing to keep in mind: Depending on how seriously you take the prophecies of St. Malachy, Benedict XVI was Gloria Olivae, the last pope in the sequence. If you take the prophecies literally, then the next pope who will take office probably less than a month is Peter the Roman, the pope "who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations: and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the terrible judge will judge his people." If you are in to that sort of thing.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

The prophecies of St Malachy are untrustworthy but that aside, I responded to the news with shock and elation.

We know that the modern revolution in the Church could not be defeated as is desired by The Brick By Brick Bund - a slow, methodical, piece-by-piece erection of a conservative facade that, hopefully, would wall-in the modernism that has nearly destroyed out glorious church.

No, a revolution can only be defeated by a radical and rapid restoration - say, that sort of does sound like Peter Romanus :) - and so I welcome the resignation.

I pray that the conclave will elect a Pope who is anathema to the world and the Jews and the Protestants for it is they who have are in a unity of opposition to us.

Sing a Te Deum, throw a party, bust out the quality cabernet.

This is the moment of great joy.

Let the war within the Church begin; there will be blood and there will be a separation of the Traditional Wheat from the Modernist Chaff.

Deus Vult!!!

Boniface said...

I am not entirely in agreement with you here. I am not elated BXVI is resigning, although I agree that he did not live up to our expectations. But he was light-years ahead of his predecessor in many respects.

However, your comments have given me an idea for a good post - comparing the "brick by brick" strategy with the "open breach" strategy you enunciated.

I'm praying they elect Raymond Burke.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Boniface. If a Pope is elected whom the world does not hate, then my dreams and hopes will have been a premature still birth.

If I am right, (and I specialise in error) I think the Holy Ghost will shock the world by prompting the conclave - after many ballots- to elect the unexpected and virtually unknown Bishop who will restore Our Holy Church to its rightful Triumphalistic splendor.

I think that God has run out of patience and that my great joy at the election of a Catholic Trad as Pope will lead, inexorably in America, to martyrdom - hopefully mine.

And precious in the sight of the Lord is His martyrs.

Boniface said...

Well, the election of a Trad pope is predicated upon the existence of a Trad Bishop capable of filling that role. I would like to see it, but there are dangers inherent in an open breach...sometimes it pays off (Pius X), sometimes it doesn't (Boniface VIII).

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Bonifacce. I agree with what you wrote which means that the next Papacy will reveal to the world that Jesus is the true head of His Church because who will be elected will either be a complete shock or the one elected will act in ways contrary to all usual/normal expectations.

I am sure this is the long-awaited and momentous event we have prayed and worked for and it will be of such obvious supernatural influence that it will boggle the minds of most which means it will be an unprecedented event unable to be accounted for by references to ancient ecclesiastical history.

God is rewarding the faithfulness of Trads and destroying the dreams of modernists.

The revolution is over. Long die the revolution.

P.S. It is because I have never evinced any hint of afflatus and it is because I make such bold statements that I use a s/n :)

Nick said...

We cannot ignore the fact modern medicine can make people live a lot longer than nature really intended. In that respect, I wonder how many Popes lived into their 80s? Given that, I don't consider this a matter or precedent of resigning as soon as things get too tough, just that there's a point where a person can no longer run the ship and modern medicine is keeping them longer than they themselves planned.

I think it would be disastrous for the next few years to go by with Pope Benedict effectively unable to pastor the church, which we all know would mean open season for the bad guys to parade around doing their evil things in Benedicts name, under his watch.

Plus, I think Benedict saw himself as a transitional Pope after the long Papacy of JPII. I have good hopes that we'll get a traditional minded Pope around Easter time. The bad guys are pretty much dying off.

SwarthyJim said...

1) These is debate about Pius X open breech policy "working". You can read about how the Sodality of Pius V went off the rails, and how everyone essentially was suspected of heresy/modernism, including future Popes Benedict XV, John XXIII, and Benedict XVI. Way too many risks for more open chaos and in-fighting in my estimation. Brick by brick is the wise way. Slow and steady wins the race.

2) We're going to see more of this retirement stuff in the future.

3) The old Pope becomes an emeritus. That's that. No big deal. I've got an emeritus bishop in my diocese. He has no papal power, but just prestige. The Pope isn't a god, he is the head bishop of our Church.

4) Where are bishops being forced to "resign" prematurely except through Church law?

I admire the Pope for making the decision. I think he truly would have gone to the end if he thought it was best for the Church. He's the Pope of humility. Always obedient to the will of God. I will miss him. I hope his days in cloister are fruitful! Keep him in your prayers.

a said...

I see you didn't publish my comment,


Scoobus Catholicus said...

The saintly Leo XIII lived to see 93. Slow and steady does indeed win the race.

Boniface said...


You are right. I did not publish your comments. They were too full of despair.

As for your relative, leave that to God. If he is in hell, no anxiety will change that; if in heaven, there is no reason for anxiety; if in purgatory, he needs your prayers, not your worry. You have no idea how it went with him or what occurred in his last moments. Leave that to God.

As for your other comments, your are losing the virtue of hope, my friend. Yes, things are bad. But, God placed you on this earth at this time for a reason. He wanted you here for some purpose, and I am guessing it was not to mope and lament about how you wish you were still an agnostic. Renew your Hope i God's sovereignty, admit that you don't know all the ends or how and why God is permitting things, and pray that your hope is renewed. You are in danger of losing faith. Hope begins to wither after charity has grown cold, and after hope dies, faith dies as well.

Anonymous said...


All I can say is that we did not get Peter the Roman.

I guess I'll leave it at that.


Boniface said...

How do you know we did not get Peter the Roman? It's a bit early.