My first reaction to the news of the pope’s resignation.

A couple of other reactions in quick succession:

1) We won’t get the third encyclical in Benedict’s Faith Hope and Love trilogy.
2) Why didn’t he wait until the end of the Year of Faith?
3) Is it something more than just tiredness? Has he received a diagnosis of a more threatening nature?
4) What now? Will he keep writing books in the monastery?
5) Will there be a valedictory service?
6) What do we call him after Feb 24th?
7) Will they let him have a cat now?

I love Pappa Benny. I pray for the Church, for the Holy Father, and for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the selection of his successor. I trust that God will continue to keep the promise to Jesus made to us, that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church built upon the Rock of Peter.

PS. Just read that the pope had been told by his doctor “no more transatlantic trips” – was the resignation timed so that there would be a pope at World Youth Day?

PPS. This act should finally put paid to the old liberal charge that Pope Benedict is “conservative”. It’s funny, because John XXIII is often remembered for being a “liberal” when in fact he was very orthodox – he did one surprising and historic act in calling the Second Vatican Council. Benedict, often thought to be a “conservative”, has at times done quite radical things (praying in the mosque in Turkey and Summorum Pontificum for eg!). This is just the latest of his radical innovations!

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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22 Responses to Shock

  1. Matthias says:

    I thought perhaps he had been given a diagnosis that was life shortening. And
    which monastery -Monte Cassino or back in Germany.
    I note that the bookies have odds on favourites for two cardinals from africa and one from Canada. It is about time we got a Pope from that part of the world where the Church is growing-Africa,Asia or South America

  2. Joshua says:

    As for the title of His Holiness after he retires, if he is to henceforth live a life of prayer as a monk within the walls of the Vatican, he could be styled Dom Benedict, I suppose, assuming he takes vows as a Benedictine (surely his choice of Order)…

    Some papabili, just for the sake of it:

    Angelo Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan (translated from the Patriarchate of Venice) – an Italian, a good theologian, and holder (in succession) of the two sees that between them supplied Pius X, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I.

    Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires – don’t let those postnominal initials fool you, he’s good.

    Being a Morris West reader as a young ‘un, I cannot resist suggesting the young Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk – though he’s not a Cardinal, yet…

  3. Matthias says:

    Sorry i hope that they look at a Pope from the area where the Faith has a larger number of adherents such as Africa or Asia . However Josh you are the second person to blog about the Ukrainian Major archBishop

  4. Peregrinus says:

    Couple of thoughts, some quite trivial:

    1. As well as its obvious immediate significance, I think this does have long-term implications for the office of the pope. Up to now there’s been a very strong culture that the papacy is a vocation which simply must be followed to the best of one’s ability, even if one’s ability is very limited. Thus abdication has been extremely rare; the last abdication was in the fifteenth century and that was done in a (successful) attempt to heal a schism in the church. The last (and, so far as I know, only) abdication to happen because the pope felt personally unfit was Celestine V in 1294, and that has always been seen as something of an aberration.

    2. I think this abdication does change things. It legitimises the notion that personal fitness is a proper consideration for a pope, and that a pope who feels that he is unable to continue in office (or that it is best for the church if he does not continue in office) is not in any sense shirking his duty or abandoning his vocation. It will greatly increase expectations that future popes, similarly situated, will likewise resign or at least consider doing so.

    3. It limits future scope for electing a comparatively elderly man as pope, in the expectation that this will secure a period of a few years of relative steadiness in the church, under a pope who is too old to embark on major initiatives, and who will not make way for a younger and more active man.

    4. It may also have implications for other bishops. They have always been able to submit their resignations on grounds of age or infirmity, but I think the culture is that you don’t do that unless you are really quite old, or quite infirm – and even then, your resignation may not be accepted, or may be deferred for quite some time. Yu have a duty to be bishop, and it’s not a duty you walk away from lightly. And that notion of “duty to be a bishop” is one which has helped not a few bishops found to have been lax in the management of sex abuse problems brazen it out and cling to office when there was pressure on them to stand down. Basically, the fact that in some respects you find you’re not a very good bishop has traditionally not been seen as a reason to stop trying. I think the resignation of a pope on grounds of infirmity must, over time, tend towards rebalancing the tension between a prelates duty to carry out his vocation, and the interests of the church in having him carry it out efficiently and effectively.

    5. As for an ex-pope’s title, while it’s confirmed that the pope will retire to a cloistered community, there is no suggestion that he will join] that community. For one thing, it’s a community of nuns. For another, the official word is that he will go there “for a period of prayer and reflection”, which doesn’t suggest a permanent commitment. Finally, the man has never manifested a vocation to the monastic life before now; it would be surprising if he were to discover such a vocation at the age of 85, and even more surprising if he were to follow it when he is in declining physical and mental health. So he won’t be addressed as a monk,

    6. There’s a suggestion that he will be addressed as a Cardinal. I’m no expert, but I somehow doubt that he is a cardinal. The core function of the cardinal’s office is to assist the pontiff, and I don’t see how a man who is the pontiff can occupy such an office. So I think he ceased automatically to be a cardinal when he accepted election as pope. I note also that you get to be a cardinal by being formally appointed to a clerical office in the see of Rome or by being appointed as (titular) bishop of one of the dioceses adjacent to Rome. Cardinal Ratzinger at various times was appointed as cardinal-priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino, cardinal-bishop of Velletri-Segni and Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. All these offices are now held by other men. So if he doesn’t hold any office which carries the cardinal’s title, how can he be a cardinal?

    7. The next pope may of course offer to (re)appoint him as a cardinal, and he might accept that offer. It would be an honorific appointment, since he’s over 80, and cannot vote in any conclave. But unless and until that happens, as far as I can see, he will be the bishop emeritus of Rome and archbishop emeritus of Munich and that, technically, is how he should be addressed. And he might decline the offer in any case, since the last thing the next pope may want is to have his retired predecessor in even a notional capacity “assisting” him. I suspect that, as well as establishing that it’s proper for a pope to resign due to age and infirmity, Benedict XVI will also want to establish that it’s proper for an ex-pope to avoid doing anything which might be seen as an attempt to influence, comment on or second-guess his successor. That, no doubt, is an aspect of the thinking behind his decision to go and stay in a cloistered convent.

    8. Finally, I seriously doubt that the resignation was timed so that the next World Youth Day would be attended by a pope. WYD is a fairly recent invention, very much the work of JPII and imprinted with his style, and there is no guarantee that future pontiffs will want to continue the event in that style, or will want to make papal attendance a central feature. Pope Benedict is known to have expressed unhappiness with the “rock festival” atmosphere of WYD; I doubt that he would see facilitating the attendance of the next pope at WYD as the factor which should drive the timing of his resignation. I think the nature of his medical advice was probably the main factor.

    • Joshua says:

      Re: 5. – going on the little I’d heard, I overliterally supposed the idea of withdrawal to a life of prayer to mean becoming a monk, vows and all… of course, in past centuries, such would have seemed entirely fitting and proper for a bishop. If only more did so… In any case, thanks for the correction, I appreciate it.

      I suspect that His Holiness will wish for a modest and humble title; does anyone know what Celestine V was known as after his retirement to his hermitage?

      As for 1-4., I certainly agree: I am in two minds about this, but bear in mind that Benedict, at his advanced age (only a few months short of his 86th birthday), is already one of the longest-lived Popes ever (I seem to recall there are only two or three who lived longer than he already has), so for him to retire, given his conviction in conscience of his inability to continue to bear the burden of his office, seems reasonable – it’s not as if he’s a mere 75 years old (the age at which all other Catholic bishops must submit their resignation, to be accepted at Papal pleasure); indeed, as one wag said of the situation in Australia, with several bishops at or over 75, and dioceses awaiting new appointments, “77 is the new 75”.

      You’re always erudite, P. Thanks.

      • Peregrinus says:

        As regards titles, Celestine V is possibly not a helpful precedent. Apart from the papacy, the only other ecclesiastical office he ever held was superior-general of the Hermits of San Damiano, the monastic order that he founded, and he resigned that office even before he became pope.

        After he abdicated as pope, he was captured and imprisoned by his successor, Boniface VIII, who was definitely more in the stereotypical mould of medieval popes. Boniface held him for 10 months, after which he died, possibly murdered. I doubt that what his proper title was during this period was a major concern for anybody.

        I accept that Benedict is particularly old (though Leo XIII carried on to 93) but with the huge leaps in life expectancy which have happened in the last century or so, popes living well into their 80s and even 90s will become commonplace in the future, and if the “don’t abdicate” culture didn’t change, the implications for church governance would be signficant. My point is that once that culture does change – and it’s changing now – we won’t know for a while quite what the new norm for stepping down will be. Will popes only go if they really can’t go on? If their doctors advise that they ought to? Or will they go if they think that, while the could do the job for a while yet, a younger and healthier man could do it better? Will they, perhaps, go when they think the wind favours the election of their preferred successor, or at a time which will give their preferred or likely successor a good run before he, in turn, feels the advance of old age? Will they decide not to go just yet if they judge the wind not to favour their preferred successor? And, regardless of the criterion that popes use to make their resignation decisions (or that they appear to use – we’ll never get any direct statement abou this), what effect with their example have on the holders of other ecclesiastica offices?

        • Schütz says:

          Benedict clears this up in his conversation with Seewald: a pope must not cowardly run away in times of danger and think he can leave it to someone else – but if in fact he is incapable of fulfilling the terms of office he may actually be a danger to the church – then he has a right and indeed a responsibility to resign.

    • Schütz says:

      On your final point, fr Lombardi has explained:

      The upcoming World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will continue as scheduled with the presence of the newly elected Supreme Pontiff. “The Holy Father is convinced that the presence of the Pope is significant to the World Youth Day celebrations,” he said. “For this reason, after his election, he had absolutely no doubts about going to Cologne in 2005.”

  5. Tony Bartel says:

    As someone (irreverently) said on TV: will the Pope now be known as ex-Benedict?

  6. Peregrinus says:

    Fascinating factoid for lovers of Latin: The “pope resigns” story was broken by the ANSA newsagency ahead of the others, because (a) the pope made his announcment in Latin, and (b) the ANSA correspondent was the only journalist present who had enough Latin to be sufficiently confident of what he was saying to publish the story before seeing the official translation, which was distributed afterwards.

  7. adam says:

    Well David it is a shock and surprise. Or is it more ‘shock and awe’ ?
    I have a few comments:
    1. This is not a ‘retirement’. Benedict ‘renounced’ the See of Rome yesterday. There is a big difference. Renounce, the word he used, is a far more definite and stronger term and one that shudders me when you think of what he just said. As one well known Rome correspondent wrote yesterday, he will not be a ‘former pope’. He has renounced the See and all that goes with it. It does not bear thinking in some ways, as from 8pm come Feb 28 he will be a simple bishop. No longer a pope nor cardinal. Ex-Benedict. Bishop Joseph Ratzinger.
    2. The encyclical is still there. There has been no word of it. But there are still 16 days till he leaves the Vatican and could release his final encyc within that period. Why should he not depart with the publication of this encyc which some who have seen, regard it as a very beautiful document. And tomorrow in Rome, at Santa Sabina at the Dominican Mother House, the pope will celebrate the evening Ash Wednesday Mass. This is sure to be well attended as usual but more so this time as it will be the last major public appearance of his pontificate. Watch for the sermon. Am sure the media will be there in droves. In past years the pope has been in procession down the road, but now he has dificulty walking, this may not occur.
    3. In the last few momths it has been evident the pope has looked more frail. Watching him celebrate Mass at the altar in St Peter’s last week, I noticed that he could not walk around the high altar incensing it as is normal. He only incensed one side. This is very unusual as he has two MCs to aid him. He has to be helped constantly and he has now started to look smaller and thinner. His face shows his 85.10 years. He has looked very frail and indeed, fragile. Sad to see. And those here in Europe who watched JPII in the last 3 years of his reign, remember well how his whole physical appearance changed so dramatically. Benedict was there and saw that decline in his body. The Church was lead by a deeply crippled bishop who had to be elevated by all sorts of mechanical devices. Benedict has obviously decided he does not want to be an incapacitated leader for years possibly. This is a brave, bold and radical renunciation of the See of Peter.
    But history shows it HAS been done before. Its just now that popes live far older into their 80s, but the world has changed and there are 1.2 billion Catholics to lead.
    4. The pope was advised by his doctor not to do trans Atlantic flights and it is noticeable that the Pontiff had not yet confirmed attendance at WYD in Brasil late July. But it is an event popes now attend. It is a must do event as youth day was begin by JPII and Benedict attended them all as pope. He needs to be there. The pope needs to be seen by the youth who go there. He will leave that to his successor to do as he will for Easter.
    5. Let’s not get carried away by this event, historic as it is, the first in 600 years. Name an 85yr old leader of 1.2 billion on this planet? None. Name a CEO of any major business or firm in the world today? None. Leading 1.2 billion is a massive physical endeavour. Most retire at 65 to the sun and relaxation. Popes go on and on and on then God intervenes. He did with Leo XIII, John XXIII and JPII. But Benedict believed he could not.
    6. He can be a monk shold he choose to do so. JPII was a mystic. A man who prayed constantly in his chapel. Benedict will serve his God and Church by prayer, silence and writing till the Lord takes hims home, then his successor can bury him in full view of the world – and that will be unique. One pope burying his predecessor – when was that done before?

    • Schütz says:

      I think the significance of the word “renounce” – which I am we’ll aware he used – is the need to be quite definite according to canon law that come March 1st he will have absolutely no claim to the papal throne. It is harsh language, but necessary to fend of any conspiracy theories

      • adam says:

        the word renounce, whilst it sounds so strong, is critical here in the context of the Pope’s person. It shows definitively when he said it in front of the assembled consistory that he he has not been forced out, removed by factions, ‘shoved’off the throne of Peter, manoeuvered out, conspired against – as was the case in the Middle Ages for some popes etc and some ghastly events of papal kidnappings and indeed murders.
        There is a brilliant video interview out today here in Europe (on Twitter, Cath News) with Cardinal Arinze. He speaks so well of this historic moment taken by Benedict, who is ‘not rash, rushed, but gentle and thoughtful’. Brilliant interview. Sad that Arinze is now over 80 and can’t vote. He would be valuable member of conclave.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Actually there is a less dramatic take on the word “renounce”. In using that word (renuntiare) the pope was simply echoing the language of the relevant canon (332 s. 2), which deals with what happens si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet. The pope echoes the language of the canon to make it clear that what he is doing is exactly what the canon contemplates, and not some kind of leave of absence/sabbatical/partial delegation of office.

    • Peter says:

      Fr.Z tells us that the encyclical will not happen.That is good enough for me.

      • Schütz says:

        I don’t know. Fr Lombardi was a bit cryptic about it coming out in “some other form” than an encyclical. I remain hopeful. One final encyclical – no matter how brief – would be a fitting way to close this papacy. It is like waiting for the other boot to fall. Only in this case, it is the third, not the second, boot we are waiting for…

        Which reminds me of this Goon Show script:

        Loud dull thuds, continue under following conversation:

        Ohhhhhhhheeoh. What, what’s that? What’s that? Ohhh.

        It’s all right Min, it’s just those noisy people in the tent upstairs. (calls) Who’s that walking about upstairs?

        (off) I’m the famous Eccles! I got friends in.

        He’s the famous Eccles and he’s got friends in, Min. (calls) Do you mind taking those noisy boots off?

        (off) OK.

        Two thuds.

        Ahh, that’s better.


        Ohh, I didn’t know he had three legs, Henry.

        He hasn’t, Min, he hasn’t, he has a one legged friend. Goodnight Min.

        Goodnight, buddy.


        MINNIE and HENRY:

        He’s got two one legged friends!


        That, or one three legged friend, Henry.

        Yes. Well goodnight Min.

        Goodnight, little mmnnnn naughty Henry. Goodnight little Henry! … Goodnight.

  8. adam says:

    this morning i watched the entire general audience, his penultimate one, in the Paul VI hall. The pope received many standing ovations and applause at the start and during the audience. It was a very emotional audience for all there and I think for all watching. The pontiff looked deeply affected by the applause. It must be a hard time for him as the ‘bewitching hour’ of 8pm feb 28 approaches, But perhaps the burden has been lifted from his shoulders as he begins his exit from the world stage and the Vatican comes to grips with a new scenario of ‘two popes’. It will be deeply emotional audience in the piazza on Feb 27th morning for certain. It will be packed and no doubt with many of the cardinals in attendance who will choose his successor days later. A unique moment for sure and never been seen before in 2000 yrs. No former pontiff has had a farewell that BXVI will get on feb 27th. But it is comforting to note that somewhere in the background will be the next pope, unknown, but who will soon celebrate the Easter mysteries at the end of March. The Church lives and moves on with the Lord guiding it all times.

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