Pope Benedict XVI is resigning

Well, here’s something that doesn’t happen every century: “Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing age.”

In a move that took the world by surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced [today] that he will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, with plans to step down on Feb. 28.

“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,” Benedict told cardinals as they gathered in Rome for the proclamation of new saints.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said preparations for the conclave that will elect Benedict’s successor are in the early stages.

A papal election could be expected “within 10 to 15 days” after the resignation, he said. “We should have a new pope by Easter.”

Here’s the text of the pope’s resignation speech.

Let me get this out of the way first: If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.

OK, then.

That “first pope in 600 years to resign” line in all the reporting on this refers back to Gregory XII, during the Western Schism, when there were popes all over the place. That resignation was part of the attempt to get the Vatican back to the Vatican, so it’s not really similar to the voluntary resignation Benedict XVI announced today. The last time a pope left the office this way was more than 700 years ago, when Celestine V stepped down in 1294. (Josh Marshall is trying to sort out the history of all this.)

To put that in perspective, it’s been less than 17 years since the Catholic Church kept slaves. (Yes, in 1996, Bill Clinton was president, Yahoo’s search-engine was two years old, and the Roman Catholic Church had slaves.)

News agencies are hastily editing the reports from their ready-to-go obit files to produce retrospectives on Benedict’s seven-year papacy. Read the Reuters report Internet Monk posted and you’ll note the distinctly obituarial tone of such pieces. (The practice of pre-writing obituaries may seem ghoulish to those outside the news biz, but it’s a prudent, necessary measure.)

CNN’s Belief Blog also dips into that obit file for a helpful sidebar of “Facts About Pope Benedict XVI.”

William Lindsey has a good round-up of initial responses. I like John Dwyer’s suggestion: “Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. for Pope!” And I agree with Chris Hayes, “Call me crazy, but I think the next pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.”

Andrew Sullivan also has a good collection of responses from Catholic bloggers and writers.

Daniel Horan has a quick look at what Catholic canon law does and doesn’t say about papal resignations. The odd factor being that, “the Pope does not answer to anyone, so there is no ‘technical’ recipient of his resignation. All other bishops resign to him.”

As Andrew Brown observes, “the papacy remains the last absolute monarchy in Europe,” and such regimes are “traditionally renewed by death or disease.”

Brown thinks the current pope’s experience during the waning years of John Paul II’s papacy may have convinced him that the church would be better served by resignation than by a prolonged decline:

During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties.

Whether or not that experience influenced Benedict’s decision, that is the explanation he provides, writing, “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.”

That’s wise. It seems in the best interests of both himself and the institution he oversees. There may be very little precedent for a papal resignation, but perhaps Benedict’s example will set a constructive precedent for his successors. When one is 85 years old and one’s “strength of mind and body” are no longer what the job demands, stepping down is a good thing.

That’s why Wonkette’s headline — “Pope Pulls a Palin” — may be a funny crack (at Sarah Palin), but the difference between his resignation and hers is telling. She was a young, healthy governor half-way through her first term in elected office when she just quit, walking away from the responsibilities that had been entrusted to her. At 85, after a lifetime in the church, Benedict isn’t a quitter. And his willingness to relinquish power seems more responsible to me than if he had taken the route of his predecessor, stubbornly clinging to power with increasingly unsteady hands.

Hemant Mehta suggests that others with lifetime appointments might learn from Benedict’s example and also take this sensible option of not overstaying their faculties:

Note to Justice Antonin Scalia, a man who is 76, fervently Catholic, and also holds a life term: Take the hint. It’s OK to step down.

See also this from Goblinbooks: “‘Don’t Believe HR About Why I Left,’ by Pope Benedict.”

 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    but I don’t remember twitching with rage at every news story I read about him,

    I did.

    The man’s behavior wrt QUILTBAG people was inexcusable and offensive and I had to watch that jackass use his special soap box to tell millions of people around the world that because he wore a dildo on his head that he knew exactly what he was talking about and so they should believe the same way as he did on the matter.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’m only sorry I can’t cheer for his death in office like I did when JPII croaked.

  • SisterCoyote

     …aha. My apologies, then. I should’ve paid more attention back then.

  • EllieMurasaki

    After M. Luther or after M. Luther King Jr?

    (joan joan joan joan)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Think positive! He hasn’t resigned yet–he might die before he does!

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Y… Y’know he’s still going to die someday, right? And how often do you get to cheer for the death of a Pope Emeritus? Like once every six hundred years, that’s how often.

  • EllieMurasaki

    More than that. Whatsis in 1415 didn’t voluntarily resign, I hear–it was part of the shenanigans enacted to get the papacy back to one person in Rome rather than multiple people in multiple places.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     JP2 was…. He was a terrible person in a somewhat narrower range of ways. And he had several good qualities to contrast with his failings. He also gets an unearned advantage in that being rabidly anti-gay was not especially remarkable for most of his tenure as Pope, making him seem like less of a jerk than his successor without actually doing anything better. Among popes in my lifetime, he is pretty firmly the least terrible. But then, Benedict is a solid #2 on that list.

  • Leum

    And in Confirmation classes, high school kids will continue to be told
    that they are free to choose their own faith–but if they choose
    anything other than Catholocism, then they are committing the sin of
    heresy and will go to Hell.

    That hasn’t been Church doctrine since 1965, when Pope Paul VI promulgated the Nostra Aetate which declared (admittedly implicitly rather than explicitly) that salvation could be found not only outside of Catholicism, but outside of Christianity.

  • SisterCoyote

     Makes sense. Sort of more of a baseline-mainstream-acceptable-Papal-doctrines terrible, rather than going out of his way often, as it seemed Benedict did.

    (I’m realizing that for most of John Paul II’s  tenure, I had my head firmly planted in the sand, with regards to politics, mostly, and religion entirely. It’s unsettling.)

  • Jessica_R

    I don’t want an American Pope for the simple reason that people who take Left Behind seriously really, really, really shouldn’t receive any encouragement in their paranoia. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    But then the Pope wouldn’t be born in Romania, so he can’t be the Antichrist, right? :P

    (Oh, who am I kidding? LaHaye and his fellow travellers would somehow contort their doctrinal intrepretations to “prove” it anyway.)

  • mattepntr

    Speaking of the “Left Behind” brigade-

    http://rr-bb.com/showthread.php?184057-Pope-To-Resign!

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    “They never resign” is somehow their proof that the End Times are approaching?

    The Soviet Union fell in 1991 when some folks were saying the USSR would never fall.

    That sort of “never” thinking is just forgetting about the likelihood of low-probability events*.


    * In the case of the USSR falling, low probability within the paradigm of the people concerned.

  • Tricksterson

    Ratzinger was in John Paul II’s inner circle so take it from there.

  • Tricksterson

    Since the three men I would most like to see as pope are all dead (Robert Anton Wilson, George Carlin and Hunter S. Thompson) I nominate Bobby Henderson, founder of Pastafarianism.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh wait, Kevin Smith is Cahtolic!  Pope Silent Bob!

  • P J Evans

     If they’re using  ‘they never resign’ as a marker, it seems to me that they’re about 600 years behind the times.

  • badJim

    Since I am a bad person, I’ll admit that when I hear  “He will be missed” I automatically think “Sure, but eventually someone will hit him.” (It’s kind of an old joke.)

    Since the next pope will almost certainly be another rigid conservative, the best we can hope for is an African or a Latino, a small victory for racial justice and a great blow to small minds.

    Given the recent history of the church, I’ll hazard a guess that the next pope won’t name himself “Innocent”. A common Mexican name is also out of the question: my aunt taught grade school in northern Virginia and was amused to find herself having to note “Jesus needs improving”.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    Will the next Pope be another old white dude? Not necessarily – this is the first conclave that has had a genuine majority of non-europeans. It didn’t take long after the loss of the Italian majority for us to get a non-Italian Pope so it could well be that we get a non-European Pope and since the biggest group of white cardinals outside Europe is in the US and there are good political reasons to avoid an American Pope that makes a PoC Pope more likely – though not certain. (Unfortunately, as I said to a friend at work yesterday, there’s only one African Bishop I’d like to see as Pope and he’s not Catholic).

    Hopefully the Conclave will realise how tainted they all are and have the courage to look beyond their number. (Edit: No, I’m not suggesting they elect a non-catholic here just a non-cardinal).

  • fraser

     Someone once pointed out that Catholics who insist there’s no salvation outside the Church are therefore outside the church themselves.

  • fraser
  • badJim

    Wikipedia has a sortable list of cardinals. Pick your own candidate!

  • Hexep

    My vote would be for all the cardinals to shrug their shoulders, sigh heavily, and say, ‘we have no idea what we’re doing. You see that guy in Istanbul, Bartholomew? He’s in charge now. We give up.’

  • Aiwhelan

    I think you’ll find its correct name is the papal tiara. (i night be wring on that. There IS a papal tiara, I just don’t know which of the many hats it refers to. Possibly the one with three crowns on it.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Herrera/100000106872183 Matt Herrera

    ” That hasn’t been Church doctrine since 1965, when Pope Paul VI promulgated the Nostra Aetate
    which declared (admittedly implicitly rather than explicitly) that
    salvation could be found not only outside of Catholicism, but outside of
    Christianity.”

    Well, apparently the priest who was guest teaching that class never got the memo, because those were his exact words.  “You can choose any faith that you want, but if you chose anything outside the Catholic Church, you are committing the sin of Heresy.”  I’ll never forget, because that was the moment when I looked around the room and asked myself “What the hell am I doing here?”  I’d never been particularly religious (my first confession was also my only confession), but that was what finally convinced me that I couldn’t be both an open-minded person and a Catholic.

    I still got confirmed a few weeks later, but only because that was what was expected of me.  It’s not like you can just tell your 70-odd year old Grandmother (who has been blessed by the Pope and is on a first-name basis with the Bishop of Jerusalem, btw) that you think the Church that she’d dedicated her entire adult life to was a crock.

    But once I went away to college, I immediately stopped going to mass.  Soon after, even the existence of God came into question.  I mean, if I basically have to either abandon or ignore everything I held dear in order to be a member of the One True Church, and if good people I knew who happened to be Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist were going to hell…what kind of God would do that?  Certainly not one I would want to follow.

    None of which is to say that my parents are fundamentalist Catholics.  Hell, they’re pretty much the standard definition of Liberal Catholics.  But they’re not the only members of the family, and they’re also the outliers.

    Nowadays I only go to mass on Easter and Christmas, and even then only because the whole family goes.  I don’t take communion.  And it seems that every other time I do go to mass, the sermon will be about something that makes me want to very publicly walk out.  But I can’t, because my Goddaughter is there, and the sermons that have made me want to walk out the most are also the ones where I don’t think I’d be able to walk out without shouting something at the priest on the way out.  I’m glad I only went to a few services during the lead up to Prop 8…

  • Carstonio

    Even after Googling, I’m still not sure why John XXIII was dubbed “the good pope.” Sometimes it seemed to be his personality and sometimes his relative liberalism compared with his predecessors and successors.  He helped save the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, and he was apparently the main influence behind Nostra Aetate. I would like to think that had he lived longer, he would have followed up Vatican II by relaxing or changing Church policy on contraception, but I suspect that’s just a daydream.

  • christopher_y

    Even after Googling, I’m still not sure why John XXIII was dubbed “the good pope.”

    Well, it’s not like the competition is all that strong.

    Two of the three bookies’ favourites are African, including one called Peter (Hi there, Malachy!) and the third is a French Canadian. So if we follow the money, we can expect a non-European. All three, as far as I can see, are as conservative as you can get, although Turkson (the Ghanaian candidate) is on record as favouring banking reform FWIW. One British bookmaker has Richard Dawkins at 666 to 1.

  • Amaryllis

    Well, apparently the priest who was guest teaching that class never got the memo, because those were his exact words.  “You can choose any faith that you want, but if you chose anything outside the Catholic Church, you are committing the sin of Heresy.”

    Well, technically, you are. Which is to say that if  you, as
    an educated Catholic
    , choose something else, you are guilty of heresy.
    It says nothing about whether the vast numbers of humans who ever
    lived,  or ever will live, are burning in hell for being Not Catholic.
    According to official doctrine, not the case.

    Nor does it mean that heresy can’t be forgiven, or that “heretics” can’t find their own path to God. Judging by the way that Jesus dealt with the heretics and outsiders of his own day.

    Nowadays I only go to mass on Easter and Christmas, and even then only
    because the whole family goes.  I don’t take communion.  And it seems
    that every other time I do go to mass, the sermon will be about
    something that makes me want to very publicly walk out.

    * rueful nod *

    * although I miss the liturgy sometimes *

  • fraser
  • Carstonio

    I remember how shocked Vatican observers were when the College of Cardinals broke with 450 years of tradition to select a non-Italian pope (Wojtyla), and how it was a non-issue 27 years later. I would have interpreted these as the Church becoming less conservative. But Jared below offers an interesting perspective from an ex-boss. A culture “indulges in enjoyment of life” might be seen as anti-conservative if not liberal, at least from the perspective of US residents familiar with “sex might lead to dancing” Protestant fundamentalism. Fred has pointed out that US evangelical rhetoric on contraception has come to resemble Catholic teaching, and perhaps the narrowing of the theological or rhetorical distinctions is somewhat mutual. A few of the Catholics I know are boycotting the Girl Scout cookie sales, and I wouldn’t have expected that from them 10 years ago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    The Pope doesn’t even have to be Catholic. I could die happy if they decided to install me as Anti-Pope Telstar I.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cappadocius Ian Cunningham

    The next Pope’s name is predicted to be Peter – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophecy_of_the_Popes

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    Paddy Power should know. They’re one of the richest Irish companies, and they invested wisely, and didn’t fail at all in the banking crash. That’s because these days, they and the banks are in basically the same business, but Paddy Power know what they’re doing, and the banks, apparently, don’t.

    TRiG.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    I think you mean the Global South; the Southern Cone refers specifically to the temperate regions of South America, south of Brazil, Peru and Bolivia: Argentina, Chile, and the ‘guays.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Note to Justice Antonin Scalia, a man who is 76, fervently Catholic, and also holds a life term: Take the hint. It’s OK to step down.

    And I’ve got just the carrot: Let Scalia be the new pope. Same arguments, different letterhead.

  • Tricksterson

    Whoever the new Pope is I hope they name themselves Fluffypants I

  • Vermic

    To me, the most pressing issue of this event is: does he get to keep his papal gear?

    Also, does he still get Swiss Guard protection?

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Well, there is pressure to maintain a “the king is dead, long live….” sense of continuity, the same impulse that led late-era French kings to name their first two or three sons Louis just to make sure.  But of course a new Pope could probably name himself after some saint or bible hero that hasn’t been used yet without raising eyebrows. 

  • Carstonio

     Heh. No way in hell. He’s already dedicated to crumbling the wall between church and state. As Pope he might very well use the Church’s resources to destroy the wall entirely.

  • P J Evans

    If anything, they’re more likely to be in  the hard-line group.

  • P J Evans

     He could try. But being the pope doesn’t get you that much leverage in US politics. He probably has more real power as a Justice.

  • Carstonio

     True, but it would still make for a good political thriller. John Paul II is sometimes credited with using his popularity and influence to help to topple communism in Europe. Imagine a Pope using the Church apparatus to topple specific regimes in countries with large Catholic populations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    No, Ann, he is not “beautiful.”  Vile, yes; demonic, arguably; but definitely not “beautiful.”  We are talking about the man who, in his capacity as head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of Inquisition), commanded the church’s bishops in 2001 not to report information about priests who raped children to the secular authorities, on pain of excommunication.  For that crime, this inhuman monster should have spent the remainder of his life in the most miserable dungeon cell on Earth.  Instead, his fellow obstructors of justice and enablers of rape and torture elected him to sit over them on a golden throne and seek to enforce the dictates of their sick, twisted belief system on the rest of the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    No, no, no.  Come on, this is Slacktivist!  Clearly, what Ratzi should be handed through the bars of his cell is a copy of Left Behind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Herrera/100000106872183 Matt Herrera

     “Well, technically, you are. Which is to say that if  you, as
    an educated Catholic, choose something else, you are guilty of heresy. It says nothing about whether the vast numbers of humans who ever lived,  or ever will live, are burning in hell for being Not Catholic. According to official doctrine, not the case.

    Nor does it mean that heresy can’t be forgiven, or that “heretics”
    can’t find their own path to God. Judging by the way that Jesus dealt
    with the heretics and outsiders of his own day.”

    The priest didn’t make any of those distinctions.  The message that I got was that everyone who was Not Catholic was a heretic.  I also liked how he framed it like I had some sort of, I don’t know, constitutionally guaranteed right to worship as I chose–but only if I chose Catholicism. 

    “That’s a nice immortal soul you’ve got there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.”

    Yeah, nothing manipulative or coercive about that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    Twenty years ago the effect might have been less pronounced than it is now.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Obviously, I’m not Catholic, but I liked John Paul II rather better. Maybe he did some bad things, but I don’t remember twitching with rage at every news story I read about him, or feeling so much sorrow for his congregation’s faithful LGBTQ folk on a regular basis.

    I would twitch about him inserting himself into my reproductive system whenever I saw him. But I just plain didn’t know about all the rest of it. Now there is the internet. Now we know, and because of that, I don’t see what the Vatican can do that they will do to rehabilitate their image. They’ll have to actually rehabilitate themselves, which is going to require doing an about-face on pretty much everything they’ve been shoving down the world’s throat for so long. Stop encouraging rape within their organization; stop pretending women are lesser than men; stop pretending straight people are better than non-straight people; stop opposing contraception; stop getting in bed with right-wing Protestants in the U.S. 

    I have higher hopes for another schism than for actual Vatican reform.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    I take it you were born after John XXIII died, then.

  • SkyknightXi

    At the very least, the new Pope would do well to look at Byzantium’s example and realize the decree of priestly celibacy and chastity is Not Necessary. Likelihood of this will, I think, go up if he chooses the papal name of Agapetus IV. (And why isn’t Agapetus listed on Paddy Power’s papal name betting form?!)

    I don’t know whether or not this will do much of anything about the molestation frequency. You’d think the cardinals would realize succoring molesters is essentially desecration of God’s name (I think they justify it to themselves with trying to keep the Church calm?)–to use the Hebrew phrase, Khillul ha-Shem. Why haven’t they?!


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