St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Monday, February 11, 2013

Did the Pope Really Resign???

When the news broke out, I didn't believe it at first. 

History was made today. The world's one billion Catholics learned that Pope Benedict XVI will resign from the papacy effective February 28, 2013 at 8pm (Rome time).  Only a handful of the 265 successors to St Peter have done this, the last being Gregory XII in 1415. 

Once the news settled, it actually didn't surprise me that the Holy Father would resign- it seems to fit him and his style. I think it definitely surprised the world the way in which he did it, especially with most of the cardinals unaware of this announcement that was to come during the Consistory. Many Catholics who didn't even know the pope could resign now know it well with Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law making it's way through every social media outlet available. 

So what happens now? One thing is for sure, be careful of whom you listen to in the media. It became clear during my morning commute that the facts are quickly becoming mixed with fiction and hype, especially from journalists and reporters who don't really understand the papacy or the Catholic Church.  

According to the Vatican Press Office, here are the details as we know them. Pope Benedict XVI will not be participating in the conclave to elect the next pope in March. (I don't know if this is because he is over the voting age of 80 or because he does not want to.) When he leaves office at the time his resignation becomes effective, he will move to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. He will eventually move to a former cloistered monastery within the Vatican. 

From there, it seems Benedict XVI will be setting a precedent since there really isn't one for having a former pope around. Based on what happens when bishops, abbots, and other religious superiors resign, it probably won't be all that different, at least I think. I suppose if he were able (and the new pope wanted) Benedict XVI could hold some sort of office or have duties within the Church. I just don't think that will happen since he cites his advanced age as one of the reasons for his resignation. Knowing him, he will most likely take on a quiet life of prayer and study away from the public eye, perhaps with an appearance every once in a while.  Like any other retired cardinal, he will be subject to the new pope, and would never  want to do anything that would take away from his successor's pontificate.  

One of my favorite pictures of Benedict XVI
I'm also wondering if he would continue to wear a white cassock. Scholars correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't say anywhere that the pope has to wear white, especially a former pope. When he was a cardinal, it was common to see him around the office wearing a simple black cassock with only his zuchetto being red; he only wore his more formal attire when the occasion called. Perhaps he will return to that, except with his zuchetto now white. 

While it's most likely he would stay at the Vatican, it would be possible for him to reside elsewhere. I'm just not sure if I'd want to the bishop of the diocese where he would move to...having your former boss living nearby might be a little awkward. 

One thing is for sure- I found Benedict XVI to be a good pope, and his resignation gives us the opportunity to express our gratitude to him for his pontificate. I had the privilege of a general audience at the Vatican in 2005, and that's when I learned how personable and sincere he is. He's an intelligent man of unwavering truth, and is able to convey it charitably yet without sacrificing its integrity. I'm a little taken because my children are so young, they will never really know him.

The Anglican Ordinariate, liturgical reforms, his Twitter account, I wonder what people will remember him most for?

The Collect from the Mass for the Election of a Pope:

O God, eternal shepherd,
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love
a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.



  1. Great article Paul. Thanks for including the Collect from The Mass for the Election of the Pope! This is my first time to your site and I have enjoyed your articles. I too spent many years in the back of the church. I applaud yo for turning your experience there into such a beautiful and dare I say, necessary, ministry. Pax.

  2. Great article. I too am really interested to see what will be happening in the coming month from the Vatican, on my blog I'm actually doing research on 5 or so cardinals that have been "short-listed" for the Papacy and will post a story on each of them. As far as the Papal white attire, this came to be when Pope St. Pius V reigned beginning in 1566. He was a member of the Dominican Order of Preachers and their habits were white. When He was elected pope he continued to wear white instead of the former red that was formally worn in the papacy. As to what the Benedict will wear upon retirement, I'm really not sure, I'd assume a simple cassock as well. Other questions have risen as well, like what he will be called, some say he will be called Emeritus Bishop of Rome, and almost certainly wont have the word Pope anywhere in his title. We aren't even sure that he will keep Benedict and not go back to Josef Ratzinger. He shouldn't be brought back down the level of Cardinal though. Thanks for the great post!



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