Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

BCI was shocked, as everyone in the world was, over the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  We have nothing new to add about the surprise factor that other commentators have not already said, or the concerns to Catholics about him abdicating.

We restate the Holy Father’s words:

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.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
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 steer the boat 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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

Here are a few articles and posts that may help put this decision in even further context:

Pope Benedict XVI told interviewer Peter Seewald in remarks published in “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” he would consider resigning for health reasons in 2010:

“If a pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of an office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign…When the danger is great, one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign…” though, “one can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.”

In that same interview, he also said:

 “I trust that our dear Lord will give me as much strength as I need to be able to do what is necessary. But I also notice that my forces are diminishing. It is correct that as Pope one has even more cause to pray and to entrust oneself entirely to God. For I see very well that almost everything I have to do is something I myself cannot do at all. That fact already forces me, so to speak, to place myself in the Lord’s hands and to say to him: “You do it, if you want it!” In this sense prayer and contact with God are now even more necessary and also even more natural and self-evident than before.

In 2009 and 2010, the Holy Father visited the tomb of a medieval Pope named St. Celestine V and a cathedral where he venerated relics of the saint. Celestine was elected to the papacy shortly before his 80th birthday, and was the first pope to abdicate the papacy. This article tells us a bit about Celestine V:

On July 4, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI made his second trip to the earthquake-ravaged town of L’Aquila to venerate the relics of his long-ago predecessor, Pope and St. Celestine V, who died in 1296. Few predicted then that just a few years later, Benedict and Celestine would be locked together in history as the two popes who retired, theoretically voluntarily, because of their age.

Here is what Celestine wrote: “We, Celestine, Pope V, moved by legitimate reasons, that is to say for the sake of humility, of a better life and an unspotted conscience, of weakness of body and of want of knowledge, the malignity of the people, and personal infirmity, to recover the tranquility and consolation of our former life, do freely and voluntarily resign the pontificate.”

When Pope Benedict went to write his letter of resignation, there can be little doubt that he turned to Celestine’s example, the “papal bull” (official letter) from 1296 that affirmed the right of the pope to resign and the legal canons that followed codifying the practice. For the Catholic Church, those 13th-century words stand as relevant and legally valid.

Commenting on Celestine at the time, the Holy Father said:

“St. Celestine V was able to act according to his conscience in obedience to God, hence without fear and with great courage even in difficult moments … not fearing to lose his dignity but knowing that it consists in existing in truth.”

He also defended Celestine’s retreat into seclusion: “In his choice of the hermit life might there not have been individualism or an escape from responsibility? This temptation does of course exist. But in the experiences approved by the Church, the solitary life of prayer and penance is always at the service of the community, open to others,” Benedict said.

“Hermits and monasteries are oases and sources of spiritual life from which all may draw.”

The brother of the Holy Father, Georg Ratzinger said: “The decision was no surprise. “He has been thinking about it for several months. “He concluded that his powers are falling victim to age….he feels that a younger person is needed to deal with the problems of the times.”

Here are several other pieces you might find worthwhile reading:

On Pope Benedict’s Resignation, by Thomas More College President Fahey

Did the Wolves Win? Or Has the Holy Father Discovered a Way to Outsmart the Wolf Pack?

The Holy Father, in his own words and those told through his brother, is clearly, not giving up the fight, but is instead handing over the battle to  a younger pope more physically and mentally capable of fighting the fight against evil for the Roman Catholic Church.

What to do now?  As commentator, Michael Matt, said: “Pray incessantly for a younger but still tradition-minded successor who will attempt to carry on the reforms Pope Benedict was quite obviously prevented from continuing. May God help us all, and may He bless and protect his Church under siege from the world and in near total chaos internally. We pray for Pope Benedict, and ask our merciful God to watch over and protect him now and always.”

24 Responses to Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

  1. saintpio1 says:

    As I have noted before: He did not want this position in the first place and it shouldn’t have been foisted upon him.
    As one in the middle 80’s I know that one does not feel as active physically or mentality as earlier in life. I myself am retreating from responsibilities that I do not feel the strength to complete. God would give him more strength if He felt it should be given him. Let’s give it to God!

  2. Boston Catholuc father says:

    BCI , thanks for this post and the links. I was initially speechless when I heard the news since a father doesn’t resign his role of father in a family, thus how could it be in the Catholic Church? But the two are different. The pope, with great courage and humility, is saying his mind and body aren’t strong enough to do the job any more. He has prayerfully discerned before God that he can no longer govern and lead effectively. I respect him for that courage and conviction.

    I know this post is about the Hoky Father, but has it occurred to anyone else whether other bishops who are unable to effectively govern their dioceses or face the problems of their time should resign and clear the way for a stronger leader? It happened once in Boston. Why not again?

    • “Boston Catholuc father”,

      I agree with you that bishops who are incompetent (physically or ecclesiastically disabled) should resign. But in this particular case, the Holy Father cited medical reasons for resigning. While this rarely happens (the first in 598 years), Canon Law allows for a papal resignation for practically any reason (just like President Obama could step down too and shock everyone).

      Locally, many faithful, orthodox Catholics are holding their breadth on the up and coming Conclave, which will start between March 15-20th. We know that Sean O’Malley will be a participant, and if he wins, there will be more riots than the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series. But more importantly, he’ll hire laypeople at SEVEN-figure salaries and “blow up” the Vatican.

      Some news outlets think Tim Dolan in NYC might have a shot, but because he invited Obama to the Al Smith Dinner, he clearly doesn’t deserve it. Same for Don Wuerl in DC.

      But the cardinal who I believe is the most qualified for the job is Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, who just happens to be an American. He says the TLM pretty much every day and has criticized bishops for not ordaining priests in the ancient rites of the Church, training seminarians in these rites, and for limiting Latin Masses in their dioceses despite Summorum Pontificum.

      Whomever the next Pope is, he will have to deal with the financial, spiritual, liturgical, and moral problems that Boston has specifically. Now is the time to clean house!

  3. Boston Catholic father says:

    Sorry for typo. Meant Holy Father. can you fix?

  4. NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

    Moses (and all the prophets) had problems w/God’s choosing them, but God usually gave them a helper (like Aaron) or He said what he did to St. Paul: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor 12:9

    Moses was 80 when God chose him (and he served for 40+ years), I can’t remember how old Noah was (but he built ark for 100 years), and Abraham (and Sarah) were in their 90s/100 (?) when they had promised child. I think it was one of the most vain things Paul VI did to not let any cardinal over 80 vote in consistory (elders have wisdom according to Bible), but also this action by Benedict is vain (not wanting world to see weakness/powerlessness of man (him not wanting to be humiliated) and also thinking it is man who runs the church) and demonstrates the lack of submissiveness of today’s Church (Bride) to GOD’s will. If the Pope does what he wants, why not the rest of us? If he can drop the chalice so that he can read and write, why not the rest of us? Also, it is incredible that Pope thinks he is supposed to rock around the world like a pop star presiding over stadium masses, twittering and releasing sound bytes rather than leading his flock in praise, prayer and service to God – going up to the mountain and bringing back Word of God. It seems he is resigning to devote himself to doing something that might actually give him something to say. He too serves who only sits and waits.

    • JUSTSAYIN' says:

      I gather you believe everything literally in the bible. Moses’ age? The ages of Noah, Abraham, Sarah?

      The Pope’s resignation (and I don’t really like the use of that word in this scenario since it connotes a giving up rather than a giving over) is a courageous step and filled with a deep understanding of the world we live in today. Criticism of the Pope for tweeting and traveling shows just how out of step you are. We are in the year 2013. There are no geographic boundaries so onerous that they are more than a flight away.

      I applaud this Pope for setting the stage. We live much longer today. That is a good thing. However, we are not necessarily able and ready for the workplace in perpetuity. Pope Benedict has made an historic move here.

      • JUST WONDERING says:

        ‘JUST WONDERING: JUSTSAYIN’ thank you for your words. I strongly agree with you and I, too, congratulate our Holy Father for his difficult, yet very proud decision. He has reached his point where I believe he cannot do justice to his position and I again, congratulate him.
        JUST WONDERING why others cannot think in the same vein rather that look for a dragon somewhere.

      • NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

        Perhaps you will instruct me on which parts of the Bible are credible (perhaps you will follow the incredible pride and vanity of VCIIers who decided they could determine that–sort of like Th Jefferson who put a line through all the parts of the New Testament which hefound incredible).

        Old English papa, from Medieval Latin papa “bishop, pope” (in classical Latin, “tutor”), from Greek papas “patriarch, bishop,” originally “father.” Being a father is not a job. Until VCII, priests never retired. But, of course, many Catholics are now so prideful and selfish that they could not bear to see their pope (or themselves) drooling; nor do they have the time or patience to care for the sick or handicapped.

    • JUSTSAYIN' says:

      TO NBTND:

      “When fundamentalists relegate exegetes to the role of translators only (failing to grasp that translating the Bible is already a work of exegesis) and refuse to follow them further in their studies, these same fundamentalists do not realize that for all their very laudable concern for total fidelity to the word of God, they proceed in fact along ways which will lead them far away from the true meaning of the biblical texts, as well as from full acceptance of the consequences of the incarnation. The eternal Word became incarnate at a precise period of history, within a clearly defined cultural and social environment. Anyone who desires to understand the word of God should humbly seek it out there where it has made itself visible and accept to this end the necessary help of human knowledge. Addressing men and women, from the beginnings of the Old Testament onward, God made use of all the possibilities of human language, while at the same time accepting that his word be subject to the constraints caused by the limitations of this language. Proper respect for inspired Scripture requires undertaking all the labors necessary to gain a thorough grasp of its meaning. Certainly, it is not possible that each Christian personally pursue all the kinds of research which make for a better understanding of the biblical text. This task is entrusted to exegetes, who have the responsibility in this matter to see that all profit from their labor”

      “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”
      Presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II on April 23, 1993
      (as published in Origins, January 6, 1994)

      • NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

        And what do the church fathers say about how old Abraham, for instance, was when Isaac was born? What does Augustine say about the ages of the Patriarchs?

    • JUSTSAYIN' says:

      “Augustine took the view that the Biblical text should not be interpreted as properly literal, but rather as metaphorical, if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason. While each passage of Scripture has a literal sense, this “literal sense” does not always mean that the Scriptures are mere history; at times they are rather an extended metaphor”

      Click to access Augustine-Genesis1.pdf

  5. jbq2 says:

    “He too serves who only sits and waits”, John Milton “On His Blindness”. “There is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey has struck out”.

  6. NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

    I suggest you actually read Augustine to see what he says about why people lived for for so many years afer the fall (you might also be interested in what Jewish scholars have to say concerning the Pentateuch). I know Augustine NEVER said to ANYONE, EVER, AT ANY TIME: “I gather you believe everything literally in the bible. Moses’ age? The ages of Noah, Abraham, Sarah?” Those smarty pants were put on you by VCII – and God help you and those who put them on you.

    P.S. “Just Sayin” – The Bible and Jesus Christ are the WORD of God. By speaking (i.e. saying) is how God created everything that is (i.e. And God said: Be light made. And light was made). 2 Thessalonians 2:8 indicates Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ with his breath. I hope you aren’t taking the name of the Lord in vain w/all your sayin’. You might check out Matthew 12:36-37 “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” ‘

    Proverbs also has a lot of teaching about speech, but only for those who believe in Jesus Christ, judgment and the physical reality of heaven and hell.

    • JUSTSAYIN' says:

      Wait, am I being called “smarty pants” on this blog?? LOL

      NBTND. we can differ; it is OK to do so. Perhaps Abraham lived to 100 and that worked well for him. Perhaps Noah, Sarah, and Moses did too. (For the sake of argument I will allow that.). That does not translate to a Pope can never resign or should never resign; or all people can work past their 100th year. If the resignation is happening and it seems it is, then I assume it has the hand of God in the mix.

      Anyone who has ever been caretaker for an elderly person knows just how tiring ordinary life can be. Pope Benedict has earned every moment of rest and relaxation he may now enjoy, as have most of our elderly priests.

      • NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

        You will allow the Bible (to be true) for “the sake of argument”? Your presumption is matched only by your ignorance (Abraham lived to be 175 – he fathered Isaac at 99/100) –not that you will think it matters in the slightest. Your indifference is the most galling result of VCII and probably one of the main reasons for the Holy Father’s ennui–all these VCII changes were for the lay Catholic–and the result is the most wicked and ungodly bunch of prideful ignoramuses the world has ever seen. The so-called Godly don’t have to study the Word of God or listen for the Word of God or worship God or even pray because, whatever happens, the hand of God is in the mix: “If the resignation is happening and it seems it is, then I assume it has the hand of God in the mix.” “If the abortion is happening and it seems it is, then I assume it has the hand of God in the mix.”
        “Anyone who has ever been a caretaker for an elderly person knows just how tiring ordinary life can be.” Is that why we are forever singing that David Haas song: “We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength, and we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again.”? Well, sure, but that’s in church and since it’s based on a Bible verse (“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31)), it has some metaphorical truth to it but nothing to do with how anyone lives their tiring, ordinary, day-to-day life (well, all right! For the sake of argument perhaps it was true for Isaiah–and good for him, but don’t apply it to the Pope or me!).
        To conclude: “Pope Benedict has earned every moment of rest and relaxation he may now enjoy, as have most of our elderly priests.” Are you now Jesus the Judge to determine what (most of) God’s servants have earned? Have you just substituted temporal enjoyment/rest and relaxation for heaven, priestly ministry or doing God’s will? “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell on a golf course all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) Do you not know of Simeon and Anna? Sure Jesus and Mary and St. Paul and Abraham (sacrificed Isaac) did God’s will, but how does that apply to the Pope or me when we are so tired or have other things we would rather do? Do we rest here or in heaven? “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them: My Father works until now; and I work.” (John 5:16-17) Or: “But be vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. Be sober. For I am even now being poured out like a libation: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course: I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day.” (2 Tim 4:5-8)
        Sacred Scripture is received. John 1:12: “But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.” Or Luke 2:38: “And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word.” And 2:45 “And blessed are you that have believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to you by the Lord.”
        This is literally true: “No word shall be impossible with God. “ (Luke 2:37)
        You might be interested:

      • JUSTSAYIN' says:


        Ahhhh, everything comes down to VCII. You are quite caustic in your ciriticism and that detracts from your message. As days pass fewer and fewer people are in the pews. Perhaps it has to do with people like you who take such a strident position on things that are not so important. Sorry that you have no empathy for a very old and frail Pope. Sorry that you cannot appreciate his wisdom, courage, and selflessness in choosing to relinquish his position. Sorry that you are filled with so much anger. Nevertheless, I have taken time to read your post and appreciate your input. I am a work in progress as are you.

        Pax vobiscum.

      • NaturalBirthtoNaturalDeath says:

        Because this is more important, I wanted to keep it separate: none of us has “earned” anything except hell. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believes in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” John 3:16

  7. bostoncatholicinsider says:

    BCI took a chance with this post, but felt we should say something about the resignation of the Holy Father. We would ask that readers keep the tone of their comments civil, factual and respectful.

    The reality is that the Holy Father has stunned the world by announcing his abdication. Everyone is justifiably shocked.

    It is correct that the mandatory age for a Cardinal, bishop or parish priest submitting their resignation was implemented post Vatican II, in 1970.

    Canon 354 (for cardinals that head up dicasteries or other permanent Vatican institutes) and Canon 401 (for diocesan bishops independent of being a cardinal) of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, set a retirement age of 75. Cardinals who are members of dicasteries or other permanent Vatican institutes are expected to retire when they turn 80.

    These retirement ages were implemented by Paul VI (#263), in 1970, via his “Ingravescentem aetatem” motu proprio.
    This also specified that cardinals over the age of 80 would cease to be papal electors, and bishops and parish priests should voluntarily submit their resignations at the age of 75.

    BCI agrees that being a father is not a “job” and we were deeply troubled to see the Holy Father abdicate. But we remind all readers that the abdication of the Holy Father was not driven by “Catholics who could not bear to see their pope drooling.” We all observed the decline in health of Pope John Paul II and though we heard people saying it was sad to see him approaching death (and we felt that way ourselves), BCI has never heard anyone say they “could not bear to see” that. Undeniably, flocks of faithful were still cheering for him in St. Peter’s Square through his last public appearance weeks before his death! Even Cardinal Ratzinger at the time said, “the example of a suffering Pope is very important … it is another way of preaching” that suffering can be fruitful “when we share it with the Lord.”

    This decision by Pope Benedict XVI was of the Holy Father, and there is no evidence it was the result of any public pressure or reluctance by him to be “seen’ ailing–he said his mind and body had deteriorated to the point where he felt he could not fulfill the ministry entrusted to him. BCI is not saying we endorse that decision, and for the record, we would have preferred that the Holy Father have stayed on until his natural death.

    As for Augustine and interpretations of the Bible, BCI does not have the time to go there right now in our response, and we suggest that winning that debate will not change the situation anyway. At this point, the abdication is what it is, and debating whether the Holy Father should or should not have abdicated will not change the current situation.

    Lastly, as for people not wanting to see themselves drooling as the get to advanced age nor having the time or patience to care for the sick or handicapped, that is a totally different topic beyond the scope of this blog to tackle.

    • JUST WONDERING says:

      By “abdication” does that mean the Holy Father can only say Mass privately and for his family????? “JUST WONDERING.”

      • The Holy Father did not remove himself from priestly ministry. He abdicated his role as Pope. He will still be a priest and there is no indication that he could not say Mass publicly.

      • JUST WONDERING says:

        BCI == I was just trying to be a “wise guy” — I know what you would say. I was playing a pun on the word “abdicate” vs
        “exonerate”. Sorry if I oversteped my boundries.

  8. David S. says:

    In light of this blog post, I would repectfully offer your readers these messages:

    If you consider these messages, along with those given to Fr. Gobbi and the fact that Joey Lomingino (Garabandal) is now 85 years old, I think we may very shortly see the unfolding of the Blessed Mother’s plan to directly intervene in world affairs.

    In 2008, five Cardinals petitioned Pope Benedict to declare a fifth Marian dogma and proclaim Mary as “the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.” These Cardinals were Cardinal Toppo of India, Cardinal Martínez of Puerto Rico, Cardinal Vithayathil of India, Cardinal Vidal of the Philippines, and Cardinal Ahumada of Mexico City.

    If God indeed plans to give us a Marian Pope to shepherd the Church through the end times, these five Cardinals may very well be on the short list.

    I am not losing any sleep over who may or may not be the next Pope. The Holy Spirit has already chosen that man from all eternity.

  9. Jack O'Malley says:

    Technically, the pope has abdicated, not resigned. But it’s a distinction without much of a difference, I suppose.

    He will revert to being Cardinal Ratzinger again (unless he had resigned that rank previously, which I’m not aware that he did). Hopefully he will continue to write for many years. Ad plurimos etiam annos, Sanctitas, mox Eminentia.

    In the Latin text of his announcement he said that the necessary liveliness (vigor) of body and soul (corporis et animae) is in recent months diminishing (minuitur) to the point that he had to acknowledge his inability to manage well the office committed to him. Only he knows whether his mind is still vigorous. His physical condition has noticeably worsened and his spirit (anima) has probably been exhausted by the curial conflicts which beset him daily. He is a scholar and the burden of bureaucratic busy-ness must tell upon his psyche.

    Ad plurimos annos, Eminentissime Cardinalis atque semper Sanctitas, Papa Emerite S. R. E.

    He kept the Church united, even the Germans and Austrians. He granted the Anglicans’ petition to return to the Faith after their centuries of apostasy. He nearly reconciled (and may yet) the FSSPX.

    Most especially, he gave us Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae. Propter quae dona pretiosissima gratias ei agamus. May the beneficent effects of both apostolic letters issued motu proprio perdure his successors in saecula saeculorum until the Church is finally restored.

    He of course remains free to rescind his abdication should a miraculous healing occur. JP2 is short one miracle, as I recall. Pro tali miraculo oremus.

    Otherwise, what awaits the Church? Papa Bertone? Quod Deus avertat. He’s currently running about 16:1. I recommend everyone put $100 on Bertone and send your winnings (you will win, I prophesy it) to Fr. Higgins to repair the Bells of St. Mary’s in Newton. Watch the movie on youtube. Help the Latin Mass apostolate in the archdiocese of Boston. This is the one boon granted the local Church by its current archbishop, despite the fact that he destroyed Heilige Dreifaltigkeit. The Faith and the Mass will survive local archbishops. It always has. Non praevalebunt, etc.

    Dubium: Is gambling a sin?

    Responsum: In the affirmative. However, once having committed the delict of gambling, it is neither a further sin either to bemoan one’s losses nor to collect one’s winnings.

    I do not swear to the moral rectitude of the above let alone its canonicity. Though I believe it has Cardinal Burke’s nihil obstat and imprimatur. But who would believe me?

    Obiter dictum, several of the comments in this thread have transgressed the threshold of credulity. Does it not seem that extraordinary events in the Catholic Church elicit the most outré comments on Catholic blogs? More significantly, even secular ones?

    Tomorrow begins Lent. I think I will augment my fasting from meat by my abstention from Catholic blogs.

    Orate vos omnes hoc blogum legentes pro Papa Bertone, ne Ecclesiae Dei noceat. Pray, all you who read this blog, for Pope Bertone, that he not harm the Church of God.

  10. Chris says:

    I have read speculation in other blogs that the confrontational atmosphere of the Vatican, and a series of betrayals — the butler’s stealing documents, the money laundering scandal — led Pope Benedict to conclude that if he became infirm, there would be no one to assist him as he assisted John Paul II. Think about that: It sounds as if the Vatican is our chancery writ large. This requires much prayer and sacrifice.

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