On the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI Says He Will Resign (New York Times) February 11, 2012:
After examining his conscience “before God,” he said in a statement that reverberated around the world on the Internet and on social media, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics. …While there had been questions about Benedict’s health, the timing of his announcement sent shock waves around the world, even though he had in the past endorsed the notion that an incapacitated pope could resign.
“The pope took us by surprise,” said Father Lombardi, who explained that many cardinals were in Rome on Monday for a ceremony at the Vatican and heard the pope’s address. Italy’s prime minister, Mario Monti, said he was “very shaken by the unexpected news.”
According to the Associated Press, “The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.”
Considering, however, that Joseph Ratzinger was already 78 — one of the oldest popes in history when elected — and had by the time of his election petitioned Pope John Paul II twice to resign his post as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (requests which John Paul II in his wisdom had denied), the Holy Father’s decision, while shocking, is to me also understandable, being the recognition, made with a clear mind, that he has reached a point in life where he no longer has the capacity to fulfill the requirements of the office.
Additional Reactions and Commentary
- Can the Pope Resign?, Fr. Thomas J. Reese, SJ. (Author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church):
Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable. As Paul VI said, paternity cannot be resigned. In addition, Paul feared setting a precedent that would encourage factions in the church to pressure future popes to resign for reasons other than health. Nevertheless, the code of canon law in 1917 provided for the resignation of a pope as do the regulations established by Paul VI in 1975 and John Paul II in 1996. However, a resignation induced through fear or fraud would be invalid. In addition, canonists argue that a person resigning from an office must be of sound mind (canon 187).
- B16 Resigns: The US Response Rocco Palmo, Whispers in the Loggia 2/11/12. Rocco also remarks:
Beyond the statement, no timetable or other parameters are currently known on the holding of a Conclave – we’re in very uncharted territory here, folks, so please be patient. The lone item of canon law to even mention a pontiff’s resignation is Canon 332, paragraph 2, which states that “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”
Along the same lines, there is no protocol whatsoever for the titles or status of a retired Pope. …
Under the operative norms governing Conclaves in the wake of a Pope’s death, the voting college is to start the election between 15 and 20 days from the moment of the vacancy. In this case, however, the traditional novemdiales – the nine days of official mourning before the election – would not apply.
Now comprised of 118 voting members younger than 80, the College as a whole – retirees included – governs the church during a papal interregnum.
- According to Canon Lawyer Dr. Ed Peters, “There are presently 118 cardinals (a papally self-imposed limit of 120 electors is occasionally exceeded), some of them retired (emeritus) from their last posts, eligible to vote in the next papal conclave.” He provides additional resources on the next papal conclave here.