So, there you have it. After 8:00pm Rome time on February 28, Benedict XVI will
1) still be addressed by the honorific he held before his retirement, ie. “Your Holiness”
2) retain the name he took at his election, ie. “Benedict XVI”
3) have the status of “Bishop-emeritus of Rome”.
All these points require just a few comments:
1) Retaining the honorific is sensible. Retired bishops are still “My Lord” and retired archbishops are still “Your Grace” (or, outside the British Empire: “Your Excellency”). In fact, I think that even where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate in favour of her son, she would still be called “Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II”. I wonder if this has any bearing on the colour of the soutane that His Holiness will wear after February 28…?
2) Retaining the name “Benedict XVI” is also important. A name is not the same thing as an office. A name is a personal identity. Joseph Ratzinger’s personal identity changed for all time when he took a new name on April 19, 2005. Sandro Magister had an interesting column a few days back from some critics of the abdication. In particular, “the philosopher and theologian Enrico Maria Radaelli” said:
“Not considering these facts is in my view a murderous blow to dogma. Resigning means losing the universal name of Peter and going back to the private being of Simon, but this cannot be, because the name of Peter, of Cephas, of Rock, is given on a divine plane to a man who, in receiving it, no longer makes only himself, but ‘makes Church.’ Without counting the fact that since the self-removed pope cannot in reality resign, the incoming pope, despite himself, will be nothing but an antipope. And reigning will be he, the antipope, not the true pope.”
I would submit that Radaelli needs to check his philosophy a bit closer, and his theology too. While in many parallel cases, a new name is taken when a person enters a new office, the office and the name are not the same thing. The office can be held by another person, the name can never be held by another. The name is personal, the office is not. Peter cannot go back to Simon, nor can Benedict XVI go back to being Joseph Ratzinger. But this is not the same thing as a pope ceasing to be pope. And for the sticklers, I will point out that Peter did not become “the first pope” that day in Caesarea Philippi – such an office could not theologically come into being until the Church herself came into being at Pentecost, nor could it historically come into being before the Church of Rome was established. Both happened after the name change.
3) And, since (as John Paul II famously said) “there is no place in the Church for an emeritus pope”, Benedict XVI will have the status of “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”, not “Pope Emeritus”. This too is a good distinction. There is only one pope, and no such thing as a “retired pope”. We should, however, distinguish the office of the Papacy from the office of the Bishop of Rome, even though this office is held by the same person. (It is an interesting question whether or not we could ever imagine a time when the Petrine Ministry might be given to a bishop who is not also the Bishop of the Church of Rome – but I think not, given that the Petrine Ministry in early centuries grew out of the pre-eminence of the Church of Rome among all the churches.) Thus “Bishop Emeritus of Rome” is just right.
Mind you, I did have one other naughty thought with regard to how the retired Benedict XVI could be styled. You may recall the odd removal from the Vatican Yearbook at the start of Benedict’s papacy of the papal title “Patriarch of the West”. Since this title is no longer in use by the Pope, maybe it could be given to the “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”?