Pope Benedict Leaves the Vatican

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Interesting Times: Pope Benedict and the Church He is Handing Forward

“May you live in interesting times.”

That saying is reputed by some sources to be an ancient Chinese curse. Other sources claim it is an ancient Hebrew curse. It appears no one knows for sure exactly where it came from. On the other hand, no one seems to deny the underlying truth of it; that historic, or “interesting” times are often tumultuous and unpleasant for the people who must live through them.

Just as no one wants to have a really good medical malpractice suit, no one wants to live their precious life in the dislocation, misery and often dangerous times historians tend to find “interesting.”

We are fortunate because we are living through a truly historic event and no one will suffer or die because of it. Pope Benedict’s resignation takes effect today, and we are temporarily without a spiritual father to guide and govern our great Church. But, interesting as it is, this transit through a historic time is a moment of rejoicing and hope, rather than grief and tumult as we anticipate an orderly transition from one pope to his successor.

We trust that the Church will continue its consistent fealty to the Gospels in the face of whatever attacks opposing forces throw against it. We know that the sacrament of confession is there for us if we sin, the sacrament of the Eucharist will be available to give us strength for our daily journey on all the altars of all the Catholic churches of the world, and that we will have someone to marry us, bury us and, if need be, listen to and console us as we make our pilgrimage through this life to the next.

Pope Benedict XVI made the decision to resign his office and “climb the mountain” of living out the rest of his days as the Pope Emeritus. He has told us he will not go back to a private life of clubbiness and being one of the guys. He will, instead, continue his papal ministry without the administrative burdens of being a head of state and the administrator of this worldwide Church.

I take comfort in the knowledge that he will be upholding us all in his prayers. What a prayer warrior he will be for us and for the Church. I am glad to think that he will be able to rest without the strain and worry of managing this Church, which is a worldwide institution of over a billion people. Pole to pole, dateline to dateline; wherever you go on this Earth, I am convinced that you will find three things: MacDonald’s hamburgers, diet Coke, and the Catholic Church.

If that sounds like less than exalted company, consider that both diet Coke and MacDonald’s deal with the universal human need of food, and the Church provides for that other universal human need of eternal salvation. MacDonald’s feeds the body (albeit not too well) and the Church feeds the soul, and it does that very well, indeed.

President Obama, who is often referred to as the most powerful man on earth, governs a nation of roughly 300 million people. The pope, on the other hand, governs a Church of 1.2 billion.

The pope speaks with the only unified Christian voice in the world today. The Catholic Church is increasingly being forced to stand alone in its support for holy matrimony between one man and one woman, sexual chastity, the sanctity of human life, and the hope of eternal life for all people, everywhere.

The moral and prophetic voice of the Catholic Church is the single best hope this world has of surviving its own dissolution.

Pope Benedict XVI decided that his age had brought him to the pass where he needed to hand the responsibility for this great Church forward to his successor. Christians everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude for the suffering servitude he gave to us and to Our Lord these past 8 years. He is handing forward a Church that has not flinched from the responsibility to be the light, shining in the darkness.

Now that he goes to his new charge of praying and working for the Church and all of us until the end of his earthly days, the best thing we can do is join our prayers to his. We may not be the seasoned prayer warrior that he is, but we are God’s own children.

Let us join Pope Benedict in his prayers for the Church and the world.

At the very least,  we can pray as he taught us in his last audience;

“I adore you, my God and I love you with all my heart. Thank you for having created me, for having made me Christian…”


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Benedict Pledges ‘Unconditional Reverence and Obedience’ to His Successor

Pope Benedict met with the cardinals of the Church who are assembled in Rome for his last day this morning.

He told them that “among you is the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”

According to a rather snarky New York Times article below, the Holy Father made this statement to allay “concern among Vatican watchers” that he would do otherwise. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the “Vatican watchers” who expressed this “concern” is the New York Times and other media of their general outlook. I don’t think anyone else shared this “concern.”

In this same article, the New York Times, which has had a few scandals of its own, characterized Pope Benedict’s reign as pope as “scandal ridden.”

In spite of the negativity in the article, Pope Benedict’s grace, humility and utter devotion to Christ and His Church shine through. You can not report about this man’s last days in office and use even the most rudimentary facts of his actions or quote the smallest bit of his words without that happening.

Perhaps that’s what it means for all of us to be the light of the world that shines in the darkness.

The New York Times article I’m talking about says in part:

VATICAN CITY — In his final hours as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI met on Thursday with the cardinals who will elect his successor, urging them to be “like an orchestra” that harmonizes for the good of the church and pledging that he would behave with “unconditional reverence and obedience” toward his successor.

It was one of the concluding acts of a nearly eight-year, scandal-dogged papacy that, Benedict said on Wednesday, was filled with “light and joy” but also had its darker moments when “the Lord seemed to be sleeping.”

A day after blessing the faithful for the last time as pope, Benedict will leave the Vatican by helicopter on Thursday for the papal summer residence and his retirement will formally take effect at 8 p.m., when he will become the “pope emeritus.”

After thanking the more than 100 cardinals collectively from a gilded throne in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the pope rose and greeted each of them individually.

Draped in a red and gold mantle lined with snow-white ermine, Benedict clasped the cardinals’ hands as they removed their distinctive red skullcaps to greet him and kiss his ring.

Benedict told them, “I will be close to you in prayer” as they meet in coming days to choose his successor from their ranks.

“Among you is also the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” Benedict told the cardinals, reflecting the concern among Vatican watchers about what it will mean to have two popes residing in the Vatican.(Read the rest here.)

For more bizarro coverage from the Catholic bashing wing of the media, check out Mark Shea’s post It Turns Out Andrew Sullivan is a Catholic Blogger.

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Pope Plans Low-Key Departure

According to news reports, Pope Benedict will slip out of the Vatican quietly when he leaves for his retirement. There will be no public ceremony, only a few private good-byes and a short helicopter ride to his temporary residence.

An Indian Express article describing the pope’s departure plans says in part:

Pope Benedict XVI slips quietly from the world stage on Thursday after a private last goodbye to his cardinals and a short flight to a country palace to enter the final phase of his life “hidden from the world”.
In keeping with his shy and modest ways, there will be no public ceremony to mark the first papal resignation in six centuries and no solemn declaration ending his nearly eight-year reign at the head of the world’s largest church.
His last public appearance will be a short greeting to residents and well-wishers at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome, in the late afternoon after his 15-minute helicopter hop from the Vatican.
When the resignation becomes official at 8 pm Rome time (1900 GMT), Benedict will be relaxing inside the 17th century palace. Swiss Guards on duty at the main gate to indicate the Pope’s presence within will simply quit their posts and return to Rome to await their next pontiff. (Read the rest here.)

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Benedict’s New Title: It’s Changed Again

What are we going to call Pope Benedict XVI after his resignation takes effect February 28?

That question appears to be a dome scratcher for a lot of folks in the Vatican. They, like us, appear to be grappling with the ever-changing reality of history in the making. Thus, the we’ll-call-him-this … no-not-that-we’ll-call-him-this nature of the story of how we should address the man who was our pope.

At first, the story was that he would go back to being Cardinal Ratzinger. Then, it was that he would be the Bishop Emeritus of Rome. Now, the announcement is that Pope Benedict XVI will become the “Pope Emeritus” during his retirement.

Personally, I like this one best of all. It’s what I would have chosen at the beginning, if anyone had asked me.

After all, this title says what he truly will be, the Pope Emeritus.

Deacon Greg Kandra has the story. It says in part:

Benedict XVI will be “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus”, as Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, reported in a press conference on th final days of the current pontificate. He will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI” and will dress in a simple white cassock without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape).

Go to Deacon Greg’s blog here to read all the details.

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Pew Survey: Catholics Want the Next Pope to Maintain Traditional Teachings

Despite claims to the contrary by the chattering class, practicing Catholics like their pope and want the Church to stay the course on its moral teachings.

I’m glad to hear this. I was beginning to wonder if I attended mass in churches that were somehow “different” from other Catholic parishes. The foment for gay marriage, contraception, abortion on demand is nowhere to be found where I worship. I’ve attended mass in Catholic Churches all over this country and I have yet to find a parish that was any different about these things from those that I see here in Oklahoma.

They all have their “respect life” signs and programs for the unborn. There are the usual Altar Guild bake sales, announcements about raising money for this or that family in distress and I swear in each parish, the same rock-ribbed little old lady with a dangerous-looking cane who sits in “her” seat and will not budge for errant newcomers who want to slide past her.

I’ve never seen anything but respect for the Eucharist. There is nary a sign in any of them of all this dissent I keep hearing about. I was beginning to think that I must be lucky in my choices of churches when I travel or that maybe the stories I was hearing were greatly exaggerated.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Foundation, it was the latter.

Seventy-four percent of Catholics approve of Pope Benedict.Sixty-three percent of Catholics who attend mass each week said that the next Pope should maintain traditional Catholic teaching. Less than 10% called for the Church to accept same-sex marriage, women priests or contraception.

What I think that means is that the authors of these stories about “dissent” in the Church are basing their claims on surveys which include Catholics who don’t go to mass and are not practicing Catholics at all.

I have a relative who says that she is a member of the Disciples of Christ church. She does not attend church, ever. When someone dies, that’s where she has the funeral. When her son got married, that’s where they had the wedding. This is the extent of her activity in the Disciples of Christ church. But if you polled her on a survey she would tell you that she was a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. I think those are the kind of “Catholics” who pollsters quiz to get these dodgy numbers that the pundits like to quote.

If they talk to people who actually participate in the life of the Church, the numbers become something that those of us who also attend mass and interact with practicing Catholics can validate from our own experiences.

I recognize the attitudes expressed in a poll that shows that the vast majority of Catholics support the pope and traditional Catholic teachings. Those attitudes are the ones I see at mass every weekend in whatever parish I happen to be. The other numbers that the Catholic bashers like to bandy about don’t gibe with my experience as a practicing Catholic at all.

I think that people who take such pleasure in reporting the impending demise of the Catholic Church are expressing their own wishful thinking. These people don’t like the Church precisely because of its stubborn refusal to change 2,000 years of Christian teaching to suit them and their wishes.

They defame the Church and natter on about its failings because they are trying to create a phony moral high ground for themselves from which to assail the Church and bully it into silence. These constant claims of a Church whose followers do not believe in it and who are about to abandon it are what they wish would happen.

The Catholic Church is the repository of faith. These teachings it won’t bend are its charge. It offers each of us a simple, followable roadmap to heaven. The Catholic Church is not made up of perfect people. All of us, both those who wear collars and those who sit in the pews, are fallible, fallen human beings living out our lives in a fallen world. We can and we do sin.

The teachings of our Church — the ones that cause such anger and wrath on the part of the Church’s critics — are how we know the finer points of right and wrong. The Church guides us in how to discern right and wrong, and then, when we are ready to turn things around and try again, it gives us the remedy of forgiveness and reorientation through the sacrament of confession.

I am gratified to see this Pew survey. But I’m not surprised. It simply verifies what I’ve been seeing at mass every weekend for years.

The CNA article describing this Pew Foundation survey says in part:

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2013 / 02:05 am (CNA).- As the Feb. 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI approaches, the vast majority of U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the pontiff, and the majority support traditional Catholic teaching as well.

According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 74 percent of U.S. Catholics “express a favorable view of the pope.”

Pope Benedict has been regarded favorably throughout his entire papacy, with approval ratings among U.S. Catholics ranging from 67-83 percent.

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also enjoyed a high favorability rating over the course of his papacy. The Pew Forum’s polling in the 1980s and 1990s found that more than 90 percent of Americans had a positive opinion of Pope John Paul II.

Weekly Mass attendees were most likely to favor tradition, with 63 percent saying the next Pope should maintain traditional teaching.

Those Catholics who favored taking the Church in a new direction could give pollsters an open-ended response as to where they would like to see change. Nineteen percent said the Church should “become more modern,” while 15 percent wanted a tougher stance on sex abuse.

Fewer than 10 percent called for the Church to accept same-sex “marriage,” women priests or contraception. (Read the rest here.)

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What Happens During a Papal Conclave?

We will have a new pope.

Pope Benedict’s resignation becomes effective February 28, at 8 pm. The See of Peter will not be vacant long. In a short time, the College of Cardinals will convene for the Papal Conclave to elect a new pope.

Catholics and other Christians the world over are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide this conclave as they select the man who will lead the Church through the times ahead. This Lent is like no other because of the Holy Father’s resignation and the transition to a new pope.

History is making while we are watching. I pray that this will lead to a new springtime in the Church, a renewal of faith and faithfulness from everyone who bends their knee to Our Lord Jesus.

The following CNA article gives a brief description of the general procedures that the cardinals follow when they are electing a pope. It says in part:

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2013 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will soon be elected during a conclave, a secret vote of cardinals that will occur in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel next month.

The number of cardinal-electors, who will travel to Rome from across the globe, is limited to 120, and only those cardinals who are not yet 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave.

Conclaves are events of “the strictest secrecy,” to preserve the impartiality of proceedings.

… The cardinals are not allowed to communicate with those outside the area of the election. Only a limited number of masters of ceremonies and priests are allowed to be present, as are two medical doctors. The cardinal-electors stay at “Saint Martha’s House,” a guest house adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica.

While the papacy is vacant, all the heads of the Roman Curia lose their office, except the Camerlengo – who administers Church finances and property – and the Major Penitentiary, who deals with issues of absolution and indulgences.

The conclave begins with the votive Mass for the election of the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. The cardinals then invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and enter the Sistine Chapel.

A well-trusted priest presents the cardinals with a meditation on the problems facing the Church and the need for discernment, “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church, having only God before their eyes.”

The priest who offered the meditation then leaves the Sistine Chapel, and the voting process begins.

John Paul II allowed for a simple majority for a valid election, but Pope Benedict’s “Constitutione apostolica” returned to the long-standing tradition of a two-thirds majority.

Each cardinal writes his choice for Pope on a piece of paper which is folded in two. The ballots are then counted, double-checked, and burned. The voting process continues until one candidate has received two-thirds of the ballots.

When the ballots of an inconclusive vote are burned, the smoke is made black. If the vote elected a Pope, it is white.

… The man elected is immediately the Bishop of Rome upon his acceptance, assuming he has already been consecrated a bishop. One of the cardinals announce to the public that the election has taken place, and the new Pontiff gives a blessing from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.

Pope Benedict will resign at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, and at that time there will be 117 cardinal-electors. (Read the rest here.)

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Cardinal O’Brien Resigns, Will Not Attend Conclave

Cardinal Keith O’Brien the leader of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland, has resigned.


Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation comes days after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Cardinal O’Brien has denied the accusations, which do not appear to involve minors. The Pope has accepted his resignation, effective February 25.

Cardinal O’Brien has indicated that he will not participate in the upcoming Conclave to elect a new pope.

A CNA/EWTN article describing Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation says in part:

Edinburgh, Scotland, Feb 25, 2013 / 05:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI has accepted Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien’s resignation, and the cardinal has announced he will not attend the conclave.

“Approaching the age of seventy-five and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh to Pope Benedict XVI some months ago. I was happy to know that he accepted my resignation ‘nunc pro tunc’ – (now – but to take effect later) on 13 November 2012,” Cardinal O’Brien said in a Feb. 25 statement.

The Pope decided on Feb. 18 that he would accept his resignation effective Feb. 25.

The cardinal recently became the focus of allegations by three priests and a former clergyman who say they received inappropriate sexual advances from him during the 1980s. (Read the rest here.)



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We May Have a New Pope Sooner Than We Thought

As usual, Deacon Greg Kandra has the story.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts as Supreme Pontiff, has modified the rules to allow for an earlier conclave. Since most of the cardinals will be in Rome this week for his last day as Pope, many people hope that the conclave will begin then.

This change does not require an earlier conclave. It simply opens the way if the cardinals decide they want to have one. The decision itself is in the hands of the College of Cardinals.

Whatever they decide, the next few days will be historic for the Church. Our pope has resigned and we will say good-bye to our years under his care. He will retire to what he has described as a life of prayer for the Church.

And we will await a new pope.

I intend to pray this week. I am going to pray a lot. I will pray for good Pope Benedict as he, in his own words, “climbs the mountain” to what his future will bring. I will pray that the Holy Spirit moves the College of Cardinals to give us a strong, faithful and holy pope who can lead the Church through the challenges ahead of us.

I ask you to join me in these prayers in hope for our future and in gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for his faithful service to Our Lord, and to us.

The CNS story describing the pope’s rule change says in part:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his last week as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules for conclaves, including a clause that allows the College of Cardinals to move up the date for the beginning of the conclave to elect his successor.

However, the cardinals cannot set the date until after the pope leaves office Feb. 28.

Pope Benedict also defined the exact penalty — automatic excommunication — that would be incurred by any noncardinal assisting the College of Cardinals who failed to maintain absolute secrecy about the conclave proceedings.

The pope laid out the new rules in an apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. The Vatican released the document Feb. 25.

The changes affect the rules established in Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic constitution governing the election of popes, “Universi Dominici Gregis.”

Under the current rules, which remain in effect, upon the vacancy of the papacy, cardinals in Rome “must wait 15 full days for those who are absent” before they can enter into a conclave and begin the process of electing a new pope.

However, Pope Benedict inserted an additional provision that grants the College of Cardinals “the faculty to move up the start of the conclave if all the cardinal-electors are present,” as well as giving them the ability “to delay, if there are serious reasons, the beginning of the election for a few more days.” (Read the rest here.)

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Pope’s Last Angelus Message: The Lord is Calling Me to Climb the Mountain

The Holy Father gave his last Angelus meditation as pope to huge crowds today.

It was a beautiful good-bye, in which he said:

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength.

The complete text of the Holy Father’s Angelus address is below. You can find it on the Vatican Radio website:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).
The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, “This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him” (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new “exodus” (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: “Master, it is good that we are here” (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: “[Peter] … on the mountain … had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? “(Sermon 78.3).

We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. “The Christian life – I wrote in my Message for Lent – consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love “(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.

I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer which I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

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