Pope Resigns!!

February 11, 2013 at 11:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Well, we awoke this morning to amazing news. Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, will resign at the end of this month.

I had the privilege of listening to a number of radio commentators hold forth on said development, and it was pretty entertaining. My own theory about the global fascination with the papacy has to do with how visual it is. I mean, these guys wear spectacular costumes, and ride in a pope-mobile, while the heads of  many other Christian denominations wear suits and ties. If you were  going to take a picture of somebody for your Easter edition, who would you choose?

But I digress. The commentators’ observations on this particular development deserve particular attention. Somebody on the BBC, maybe Lavinia Byrne, said that the pope’s resignation is a sign of the church’s modernization. Modern medicine keeps people alive long past the age when they are fit to rule physically, psychologically, or even spiritually. So popes now will resign. (JPII’s gruesome decline from Parkinson’s illustrates the point). Another commentator said B-16 was a transition pope; maybe part of the deal when he was elected was that he would stay in office only so long, then step down to make way for a longer-term pontiff.

With regard to B-16’s resignation being a modern gesture, you need to understand that he made the announcement in Latin, to a gathering of Catholic cardinals a number of whom didn’t have enough Latin to understand what he was saying. One assumes the more erudite guys translated it for them. Furthermore, Benedict began his earth-shaking announcement with the salutation “Brothers”–fratres. So much for the seven hundred million or so sorors who will, like me, get the news over the radio. The modern era began in 1492, with Columbus’s discovery of the “new” world. The Catholic Church then ostensibly entered the modern world in the 1960s, just as the rest of the world was contending with the fractures of postmodernity. Now, in 2013, the church enters the modern world a third time, with an announcement in Latin.

Another commentator raised the question of whether Benedict, by virtue of being the first pope in six hundred or so years to resign, will try to influence the selection of his successor. But even if he really does hie him to a monastery and do nothing but pray, B-16, and his larger than life predecessor John  Paul II, will influence who the next pope is big-time. They appointed all of the College of Cardinals who will gather to elect the next pope (John Paul II appointed 179 of the current 199 cardinals, and Benedict the rest; this after Pope Paul VI limited the size of the college of Cardinals to 120). This means that the only likely transition will be from a seriously old conservative pope to a fairly old one.

Another commentator expressed the desire that the new pope would see to it that more power is shared with the local church. I guess the sharing of power is one of the characteristics of modernity. But consider this: even Benedict’s closest aides expressed amazement at the announcement of his resignation. The head of the second largest religious body in the world (after Sunni Islam) decided to resign his post without discussing it–the timing, the ramifications–with anybody. As Benedictine Anthony Ruff said (with amazement!) a while back, the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy, and absolute monarchs do not share power. End of story.

All this notwithstanding, I suppose a good Christian would continue to hope that the next pope will share power, or even simply implement the Second Vatican Council. As for me, I remember the election of Pope John XXIII. What a pope and a council do, the next pope can and probably will undo. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 4,769 times, I’m the fool.



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  1. As you say, it’s my hope also: All this notwithstanding, I suppose a good Christian would continue to hope that the next pope will share power, or even just implement the Second Vatican Council.

    Jeanette Stokes Durham, NC stokesnet@aol.com Blog: http://stokesnet.wordpress.com

    REPEAL Amendment One


  2. Several of my Moravian friends have noted that the last Pope to resign did so on July 4, 1415, just two days before Jan Hus was burned at the stake. I can’t find any particular significance in that, but it is an odd coincidence. Perhaps if church leadership had not been in such turmoil at the time, Hus’ teachings wouldn’t have seemed so threatening.

    I wish your church well as you go through this process. Miracles do sometimes happen.


    • Thanks. (I have it in my head that your name is also Marian, in which case, thanks Marian, but I have been known to make things up!).


      • Yes, I’m also a Marian. Thanks for remembering. I’ve been trying to collect all my various comments log-ins into one standard with my crow “gravatar” (I didn’t even know the word until about six weeks ago when I was asked to create one!), but I’m not there yet. Now I have to figure out how to change WordPress from mlshatto to Marian L Shatto. Keeping up with changes in technology helps keep the aging brain healthy, right? I sure hope so!


  3. While we have had better popes and worse ones (John XII and Alexander VI come to mind), the real change will not be the next pope, but the much more gradual rise of the laity and our criticisms of the clericalization of our church–that we are starting to see, feel and act as though WE are the church, and not THEY.


  4. To change your gravatar settings, log into your (Gravatar) account, go to the ‘edit my profile’ section and change “Display Name.”

    Re: the Pope’s resignation, Think Progress had an interesting rundown of his more progressive stances; viz., taking care of the planet, taking care of the poor, healthcare as a right and not a privilege, and proper treatment of immigrants in the US. As in so many cases, it’s not all black/white. That doesn’t make me a fan, however.


  5. I have been hugely disheartened by the accolades coming out of our new Archbishop’s office for what Benedict’s reign has represented. Living in the “thick” of the Roman Catholic world, in ecumenical work, inter-faith dialogue, with clients lay, ordained, and religious from the RC Church, and paying close attention to what has happened “on the ground” during Benedict’s term of “leadership”, the darkness, the perversity, the sheer cruelty, and the obsession with power and orthodoxy over any notion of truth, whether that concern sexual abuse, priests legion in number actively engaged in sexual relationships with women or men or both, women in the Church, or human sexuality, has been horrifying. There was cheering to be heard in some quarters in Louvain, where I work, today, where there is some, albeit small, hope, that someone closer in spirit to Erasmus than to the worst of the Inquisition (which Benedict headed in its present form before becoming Pope) might emerge as the next leader of this much troubled, and deformed, part of the Church.


  6. Thanks, Marian! Yes, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will find a strong voice in this election.
    The Second Vatican Council is still, by Canon Law, the highest authority …let’s hope that gets due recognition and true implementation by whoever is elected.


  7. Thank goodness we meet Christ through the Church in a timeless context…these
    men are sadly ‘protecting’ something that has become a relic itself. I am amused
    by the notion that we need to protect God. Pat


  8. The news was really shocking and it’s worth mentioning that Benedict XVI was much more than the head of the Catholic Church. He was also an intellectual with an extensive knowledge of a variety of subjects whose thoughtful remarks often made us think about the world’s most daunting problems. What I loved about him was his keen interest in the protection of the environment. He spoke openly about the threats such as global warming and other challenges we’ll have to face in the years to come. In my native Vancouver there’s now a project called Greenest City 2020 Action Plan whose aim is to eliminate the negative impact that our actions often have on the environment and it seems to me that those in power are reluctant to speak about these problems or support the activities carried out by various environmental movements. And I have to say Pope Benedict was never afraid to raise his voice to warn against the possible disastrous consequences in this particular area. I think he should be a source of inspiration for a number of leaders and that’s why he will definitely be missed by many here in Canada.


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