Pope Benedict will resign his office today. I wish him all the best. I can only imagine the burden he lays down now. Actually I can’t. Being the Vicar of Christ and having the responsibility of shepherding His Church? Only the men who have have filled the shoes of the Fisherman can have any comprehension of what must be the crushing weight of that office. I hope he enjoys his well earned rest. What are the practical long term consequences of his decision?
1. What does the old Pope think? The new Pope will have to deal with something none of his predecessors had to deal with: an aggressive world wide media incessantly trying to ask Benedict how his successor is doing. I am confident that Benedict will remain mum, but that will not stop rumors from constantly arising as to whether he is pleased or displeased with the actions of his successor. If this resignation starts a trend in popes resigning, then this may be something new for future popes to have to wrestle with.
2. Will Benedict write his memoirs? I doubt it, but it is a possibility. Popes commenting on their own papacy in retrospect is something new under the sun.
3. New ammo for the sedevacantists? Opposition to the new Pope, and opposition there will doubtless be, on the fringes may argue that he is not really Pope because the resignation was invalid. Since popes have resigned before I do not find this argument logical, but I am certain this will be made.
4. Push for a papal mandatory retirement age? There is already a mandatory retirement age of 70 for priests and 75 for bishops and archbishops. I always have thought this was an unwise act on the part of Paul VI and I fear that there may be a push for such a mandatory retirement age for popes.
5. Psst, did you hear the Pope is going to resign? The Vatican has always been a rumor mill and now we will have a new one. Whenever a Pope sneezes the rumors are going to fly.
6. What does a retired Pope do? Go to a monastery cut off from the world one hopes. I trust that Benedict will realize he needs to isolate himself from the World as much as possible, for his peace and the peace of the new Pope.
7. Duty for a Pope to retire? With the advance of medical technology, popes are living longer and their dying will be more drawn out, as we saw with John Paul II. These are rocky patches in any papacy as the Pope loses day to day control. Will it now be argued that a Pope has a duty to “spare” the Church this and retire? I think much mischief can be, and will be, done with this argument.
8. Consultation with the old Pope? What if a successor Pope wishes to consult a retired Pope? I think such consultation would be a mistake for any number of reasons, but depending upon the man chosen I could imagine it happening.
9. Changes in canon law? Don’t be surprised if the new Pope implements changes in canon law to carefully spell out the role of a retired Pope.
10. Younger popes? Will this resignation lead to the Cardinals considering a younger man than hitherto for the Papacy? Age and health have never seemed to be major concerns at prior Conclaves, but I can imagine this first resignation in six centuries leading to a focusing upon age and health.
Lots of questions and few answers. Time will supply them as it usually does.