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Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

2013-02-18 13:07

Elected in 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger had first-hand experience of attending a pope who was extremely frail and in ill-health while still maintaining his position on the world stage. Now 85, that experience has taught Joseph Ratzinger the stubborn belief that there is no indignity in a pope resigning because he can no longer manage in his own body the huge responsibilities of his office. Thus Pope Benedict XVI announced:

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...

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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

Pope Benedict has gone against the tradition of a pope dying in office, admitting that he is now too frail in mind and body to carry out the responsibilities of the Petrine ministry. The last Pope to do so was in 1415.

Neither of the previous two papal resignations was due to ill-health. On returning from his visit to Mexico and Cuba, Pope Benedict was advised by his doctors against travelling any more on transatlantic flights because of his deteriorating health.

Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain, which was prefaced by negative articles in the press about the German rottweiler, ended up by recognising him, however reluctantly, as a German shepherd. His speech in Westminster Hall on faith reason and democracy, addressed to the political elite of the land, was a stunning reflection of great depth, reflecting his scholarly insight.

The probability is that he will retire first to the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano, which is about 15 miles south-east of Rome. Then possibly to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, inside the Vatican, once the offices of the Vatican Radio. Since no one knows how to refer to an ex-pope, there have to be a new Debrett's entry: perhaps the Emeritus Bishop of Rome?

Pope Benedict’s realism about his own health and limitations, over against the considerable demands of his office, has led to his personal decision to resign. He has too much respect for the office to occupy it enfeebled and debilitated. This might be his most radical act as Pope, recognising his own human frailty. I am sure all of us wish Pope Benedict, wherever he decides to live, a restful and peaceful retirement. And wish his successor, wherever he comes from, a healthy and fruitful pontificate.

Fr Denis McBride C.Ss.R.

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