What about the pope’s last, unfinished encyclical?

His planned trilogy on the theological virtues will remain, it seems, incomplete.  Catholic News Service has some interesting background: 

In December, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that Pope Benedict’s fourth encyclical would be released in the first half of 2013. Treating the subject of faith, the encyclical would complete a trilogy on the three “theological virtues,” following “Deus Caritas Est” (2005) on charity, and “Spe Salvi” (2007) on hope.

Then, on the day after the pope’s announcement, Father Lombardi announced that Pope Benedict would not issue another encyclical after all.

The news was surprising because it suggested that Pope Benedict, a former professor who has placed a priority on his teaching role as pope, had abandoned the most prominent teaching project of his pontificate just before its completion. This, even though Father Lombardi said that the pope had pondered resignation for several months, and the Vatican newspaper reported that he first considered the move in March 2012.

It was hardly plausible that so prolific an author might be suffering from writer’s block, even given the deteriorating “strength of mind and body” he cited in announcing his resignation. Three days after that announcement, Pope Benedict delivered a highly structured, 46-minute long public talk, without a prepared text and only occasionally consulting his notes.

But unlike an off-the-cuff speech, papal encyclicals are not one-man productions. Though the pope ultimately determines their content, they are typically the fruit of much behind-the-scenes collaboration with Vatican officials and often with outside consultants as well. Pope Benedict’s last encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (2009), appeared more than a year after its expected date, reportedly because of complications in this process. It is likely that such was the case again this time.

Father Lombardi has suggested that the former Pope Benedict might eventually publish the document under his own name, in which case it would not rank as part of the papal magisterium. But it is at least as likely that his successor will take up and finish the task.

Popes tend to honor their predecessors’ commitments, which is why everyone assumes that the next pope will travel to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July. Indeed, Pope Benedict’s own first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” was started by his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.

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