Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

Benedict XVI upon his election April 19, 2005 [AP photo: Domenico Stinellis]

It was a shock to the world the Pope Benedict XVI (ne Josef Ratzinger) offered a letter of resignation today from the Papacy during a consistory which was just slated to canonize three saints.  Benedict XVI was elected pope April 19, 2005 and at age 78 was the oldest Pope elected to the Chair of St. Peter.  Cardinal Ratizinger had developed a reputation as a doctrinaire  Rottweiler as he headed the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office of  Holy Inquisition) during most of Pope Blessed John Paul II’s  26 ½ year reign . Benedict XVI surprised critics as being a gentle German Shepherd during his nearly eight year tenure leading the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation will take effect as of February 28, 2013 8 pm Rome time. There will be a two week period when it will sede vacante and then the College of Cardinals will meet to vote on who will become the next Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI Crest
Pope Benedict XVI had hinted at the possibility of resigning during an interview with a German journalist in 2010 if he did not feel that he was physically or mentally capable of fulfilling the mission of the papacy.  Some had speculated that Benedict XVI might resign at the conclusion of the Year of Faith, which is slated to end November 24th.  Yet Benedict XVI heeded his prayerful examination of conscience and chose the end of February.  This could be symbolic as February 28th is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes which is also the Church’s World Day of the Sick.  However the date also coincides with the signing of the Lateran Pacts (1929), when the Republic of Italy recognized the sovereignty and independence of the Vatican City state.

In his letter of resignation, Pope Benedict XVI noted:

 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 govern the bark 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. 


Generally, the Papacy is considered a calling to one's Earthly end.  Pope Blessed John Paul II's difficult health decline from Parkinson's Disease and the effects of his 1981 assassination attempt was a object lesson on the dignity of human life and natural death, the redemptive value of suffering and some might argue martyrdom.  One can draw lessons from Pope Benedict XVI's  "intentional grounding" as a selfless act which demonstrates humility and the desire to best serve the Lord in building the Kingdom of God.


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