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.
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:
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.