Pope Benedict XVI: “with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome”

For anyone seriously concerned with his “legacy”, the surprise announcement by Pope Benedict XVI, of his intention to renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome “as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours”, deserves a more considered approach.  For example, following on from his initial response, at the Telegraph Blogs Damian Thompson reproduces the Catholic Herald’s “10 reasons why Catholics should give thanks for the Pope’s ministry”.  As Damian Thompson adds,

 I don’t expect non-Catholics, or even all Catholics, to agree with the paper’s verdict; but I hope it will help some readers understand why Benedict inspired such intense love and loyalty at a time when liberal commentators were determined to misrepresent him.

And he was misrepresented at times, as I’ve mentioned on the odd occasion.  More than once.


In the Irish Times Eamon Duffy makes an interesting point

But Pope Benedict is clearly more conscious than his predecessor was that in the absolute autocracy that is the papacy, if the pope is not doing his job, somebody else is, behind the scenes. [added emphasis]

His statement goes on to insist that “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of

deep relevance for the life of faith” a pope must have “strength both of mind and body”.

In those few words a momentous shift of understanding is signalled. For more than a millennium the papacy’s role has been at least as much a religious icon as an administrative centre. In recent times popes have acted and have been perceived as a different kind of creature from all other bishops.

All of Pope Benedict’s episcopal colleagues are obliged to offer their resignation when they reach 75 (an offer that is rarely refused). And all cardinals are automatically disqualified from participation in papal elections when they turn 80.

Only the papacy itself has been thought to be above questions of effectiveness and competence. No longer. In his brief and unassuming statement to the cardinals yesterday morning, in which he asked forgiveness for his deficiencies, Papa Ratzinger took a huge step towards the demystification of the world’s oldest and most sacred office, with the quiet insistence that one has to be up to the job. With that perception, that the papacy is not only Christianity’s most exalted religious calling , but a job, with mundane responsibilities which the incumbent must be fit to discharge, this modest professional theologian has changed the rules of the game.

Many will regret and some deplore his decision. But Pope Benedict has liberated his successors to think of their election as a fixed-term appointment. And he has liberated the cardinal electors, with the realisation that the church is not necessarily stuck with their choice ’till death do us part.

Perhaps.  But, for now, Benedict’s resignation creates the extremely rare, if not unique, scenario in which the cardinal electors of his successor will do so in the knowledge that, although he won’t be able to vote, he is still there.  Although I think we can safely assume that, unlike the “irredeemably outrageous Benedict IX”, he hasn’t sold the papacy to his godfather.

The 118 cardinals currently under the age of 80 who are eligible to vote will be reduced to 117 by the date Benedict has chosen to step down – if they dally over their choice, that number could become fewer.  And as the BBC notes

Sixty-seven of the current cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict XVI, and 50 by his predecessor John Paul II.

The BBC article goes on to note that

John Paul II changed the rules of the Conclave so a Pope could be elected by simple majority. But Benedict XVI changed the requirements back so that a two-thirds-plus-one vote is required, meaning the man elected is likely to be a compromise candidate.

Well, maybe…

RTÉ reports the comments of Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi

Fr Lombardi also confirmed that Benedict will step aside completely from any role in running the church after he resigns and will play no part in the election of his successor.

He said: “The Pope has said in his declaration that he will use his time for prayer and reflection and will not have any responsibility for guidance of the church or any administrative or government responsibility.

“This is absolutely clear and this is the sense of the resignation.”

And a BBC report adds

Georg Ratzinger said his brother had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.

“When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly.”

He said the resignation therefore was part of a “natural process”.

And he added: “Where he’s needed he will make himself available, but he will not want to want to intervene in the affairs of his successor.”

But Benedict, undoubtedly, has left unfinished business.  As I’ve mentioned before

It’s all part of [Benedict’s] wider campaign..

Which could be characterised as an attempt to re-assert the imperial influence of Constantine’s over-rated medieval entity.

Or, as the Benedictine John Waters put it back in 2008

Benedict’s project is the restoration to western culture of an integrated concept of reason, the re-separation of the metaphysical from the physical.

To repeat what I said then…

He’s right, in a way, that Benedict seeks an “integrated concept of reason” – Benedict has appealed to a “greater form of reason” previously. But, as I’ve pointed out before, the re-equating, or re-entwining, of religion and science that Benedict actually seeks is not an Enlightenment, it’s an Un-Enlightenment.

And it’s still Sir Francis Bacon’s fault[I’ll get the fake beards ready – Ed]

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  • Alias

    “Only the papacy itself has been thought to be above questions of effectiveness and competence. No longer.”

    Thought by whom? One of the Pope’s immediate predecessors famously declared that he had never made an infallible statement in his life. And this Pope echoes that de-mystification by citing his failing mental powers as a reason for his resignation (if his judgement is faltering then it cannot be infallible).

    Mandatory retirement of a Pope at a particular age is long overdue. This retirement is discretionary but it is only a matter of time before that discretion disappears in a contractual arrangement.

    How do you judge a Pope’s legacy anyway? By the general condition of the Church on the day of his retirement as the Bishop of Rome? These Pope’s are forever reversing the policies of their predecessors, so what is lasting? I guess there are the usual measures of improving Vatican relations with other religions, fending off women priests, married priests, etc, but these are just as transient.

    How about a black Pope? That way, the liberal media will fall in love with him, and he’ll even get a Nobel Prize before he takes office.

  • Drumlins Rock

    an Orangeman commenting on the Pope I know… anyways, I suspect Benedict was elected because it would be a short reign and he knew that, his job was to secure JP2 legacy, clear up some of the mess but also set clear limits for a more reforming future Pope, he did the first ok i guess, the second appears half hearted, and the third he seems to have over done, if not fully intending to do so.
    I’m guessing this time the Cardinals will want slightly longer reign so prob someone in their early 60’s. Dispite the talk the chances of an African Pope cant be realsitic, espically if 2/3 are required. I would go for Americas, probably South, but couldnt rule out a Yank.

  • “Sixty-seven of the current cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict XVI, and 50 by his predecessor John Paul II.”

    As Hans Kung has put it: “During his time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the church out of its multifaceted crisis”. It’s hardly likely that those selected by his predecessor would be much different.

  • Pete Baker



  • Alias

    DR, “reign” is probably the core of the difficulty with a mandatory retirement age or fixed term for a Pope. He is also a Sovereign, so the power to decide to retire or not resides with him.

    Also, a black Pope is more likely than you think. Paddy Power has Cardinal Turkson as the favourite.

  • The current and previous Pope were born in Republics and its likely we will never see a Pope “crowned” again and Pope Benedict has set a precedent, that in future Popes will retire….or at least have that option.
    lets be frank …nobody really wants to be working as they approach 90…the current Pope might well rationalise that as he becomes older ..decisions will be taken by the Curia.
    I think it would be extradordinary if senior Curia figures did not have a clue that this was about to happen…and I suspect that the new Pope might well be chosen already.

  • Drumlins Rock


    I think the 2/3 thing will scupper the chances of a Black Pope, put 120 overwhelming white european, extremely conservative,unmarried elderly but powerful gentlemen in a room and two to one they choose a black man as their unqestionable leader? That is a brave prediction.

  • “I suspect that the new Pope might well be chosen already”

    Presumably the lobbying will have been going on for some time, fjh; the conclave might produce a surprise as it did in 1958.

  • tacapall

    Benedict XVI was one of the most corrupt Popes there has ever been, his dealings and connections with the Institute of Religious Works otherwise known as the Vatican Bank, where he used his position to award contracts to his friends and family, launder money for criminal organisations, resulting in the European Parliament seizing from it 300 million Euros fraudulently acquired. plus put a credit and visa card embargo on tourists visiting Vatican City. The real power behind his sacking was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who also engineered the sacking of Gotti Tedeschi, head of the Vatican Bank, last May. Whoever the new Pope is they have to deal with the corruption inside the Vatican and have the support of Bertone.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Vatican is a corrupt institution no different from the bankster fraternity or the credit rating bureaus one of whom was fined 600 million dollars for eh ‘false’ ratings .What else can be said about the Libor scandal ? Now that Deutsche Bank has been making 64 million dollars everytime the Libor rate moves a point either up or down ?

    The new Pope has already been chosen anyway but they will go through the formalities of the white smoke after a ‘decent ‘two day interval ‘

    Father Jack Hackett won’t make it this time either . I can’t see an American (Cardinal Dolan ) making it nor an African -Perhaps a South American of Italian ancestry might put the papal mafia at their ease ?

    It’s a good business. The hassle on the ‘religious side ‘ with all this modern insistence on transparency etc makes the task of finding the right ‘front man ‘ all the more difficult .

    Still somebody has to do it . And it’s not like Queenie’s job where the ascendancy is decided by birth order and the roll of the fertility dice eh ?

  • alex gray

    Pope Benedict was the driving force behind Pope John Paul IIs papacy, then his own and he is staging this move to keep control of the next Papacy under his watchful eye within the Vatican, He appointed most of the college of Cardinals – his men – and I would guess that his chosen successor is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, his protege who succeeded him as editor of the journal Pope Benedict founded when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.

  • GEF

    Disgraced LA Cardinal Mahony off to Rome to vote in Pope Benedict replacement. Barred from his public duties but not from voting for the next pope. Cardinal Roger Mahony will still help to elect a new pope, although he was barred from performing any public duties in his Los Angeles archdiocese by the current archbishop because of his handling of multiple sex abuse cases involving pedophile clergy.

    Read more: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/-Disgraced-LA-Cardinal-Mahony-off-to-Rome-to-vote-in-Pope-Benedict-replacement-190992581.html#ixzz2Kn5SXd98
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  • Greenflag

    Men in black telling people how to live their lives while screwing them behind their backs , men in striped suits controlling the banksters and our elected men in suits -naked as the day they were born and powerless to other than obey the diktats of the banksters .

    And in the great state of Florida another Republican Party Chairman gets 3 and a half years in jail for corruption and money laundering. Everybody knows he’s taking the fall for virtually the entire slate of candidates and party officials .

    What greater love can man there be but that a man layeth down his life/career for his friends in higher places . Wonder how much he bilked them for before falling on his own sword ?

    Cardinal Mahony may be disgraced but is has he been convicted of committing a felony yet? If he has then he would not be allowed to vote in Florida but presumably can still vote for Pope ?

    The world turned upside down ? Not at all -business as usual in our great kleptocracies that we sometimes refer to as our venerable institutions of state or church 🙁

  • alex gray

    By the way Cardinal Marc Ouellet also worked in South America for many years so he ticks that box just as he ticks the non-european box. Ratzinger has this all well set up. As for St Malachy’s prophesy – its a load of Mallarkey.

  • Framer

    It has to be Milan or the French Canadian.
    The Ghanaian has no media sense while the South Americans have dallied with Liberation theology.
    For a surprise, Sean Brady?

  • Newman

    The personal and ignorant abuse levelled at Benedict by Tacapall is redolent of anti Catholicism at its virulent worst. When you are comparing Popes it may assist if you had even a remote idea of comparators. History and more particularly the Catholic world will judge Benedict kindly. In his resigning he has given a great gift to the Church and highlighted the importance of the office rather than the personality. He has been an inspirational Pope who’s teaching on the dangers of moral relativism will prove more prescient than the ideas which currently pass for thought in the West.

  • Greenflag

    Cardinal Marc Ouellet has stated the Catholic Church is persecuted in contemporary secular Quebec for telling the truth.

    And in Ireland the RC Church is ‘persecuted ‘ for not telling the truth .If anyone has the time or inclination a several page list of the cover ups , resignations , falsifications , delaying tactics etc etc etc can be gleaned from any review of the Catholic Hierarchy’s pronouncements in Ireland .

    In a letter published in Quebec French-language newspapers on November 21, 2007, Cardinal Ouellet publicly apologized for what he described as past “errors” of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec. Among the errors he wrote about were attitudes, prior to 1960, which promoted “anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals.”

    They (the RC Church ) don’t like transparency -never have and never will . It is the nature of the institution .

    ‘In May 2010 Ouellet stood by his comments that abortion is unjustifiable, even in the case of rape, and urged the federal government to help pregnant women keep their child.”

    What of the women themselves ? Surely their decision ?

    When the RC Church pronounces on ‘moral relativism’ it has all the credibility of Bernard Madoff pronouncing on the financial integrity of his 60 billion dollar ponzi investment scheme ( ironically one in which the RC Church lost investment capital ).

    Benedict deserves credit for being the first pope to resign for health reasons .While there may be millions who believe that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith -he is a human being and subject to inevitable decline and death -same as the poor crooked scythe and spade .

  • Greenflag


    ‘The personal and ignorant abuse levelled at Benedict by Tacapall is redolent of anti Catholicism at its virulent worst. ‘

    Rubbish . The truth hurts . And so it should as the RC church has been covering up it’s seedier financial side for the past several decades -ever since God’s banker was found hanging under London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge .

    E-mails and other documents from Vatican officials followed, including a report that appeared in political daily Il Fatto Quotidiano about a plot to assassinate the pope before the end of 2012, and another on La7 accusing the Church of not cooperating with investigators in the 1982 fraudulent bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosiano.

    Then Italy’s largest bank, Banco Ambrosiano was run by Roberto ‘God’s Banker’ Calvi, whose body was found hanging under London’s Blackfriars Bridge that year.

    Italian prosecutors say Calvi was killed for failing to repay Mafia money and his murder was staged to make it look like suicide.

    Moral relativism ?


  • alex gray

    If you go to the St Malachy predition and all that “Peter the Roman last Pope” stuff the only additional person who has a name link to “Peter” is Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington who is Cardinal Priest of St Pietro in Vinculi (St Peter in Chains) Rome. The US link would not be seen as good. He is an arch conservative who has a strong track record against sex abuse priests. He also has a record of amalgamating parishes and schools. The other links of the the rmain contenders are :

    Donald William Wuerl Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli Archbishop of Washington (born November 12, 1940)

    Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (born 21 September 1949), Archbishop of São Paulo

    Cardinal Angelo Scola Cardinal-Priest of Santi XII Apostoli (born 7 November 1941)

    Cardinal Marc Ouellet SSP Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Traspontina (born 8 June 1944) former Archbishop of Quebec

    Cardinal Leonardo Sandri Cardinal-Deacon of S. Biagio e Carlo ai Catinari (born 18 November 1943)

    Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Speranza (born 29 December 1942)

    Cardinal Peter Turkson Cardinal-Priest of S. Liborio (born 11 October 1948)

    Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore (born 22 January 1945), Archbishop of Vienna

    Wuerl’s profile might be good on the abuse issue if that becomes a determinant but I still think Oueellet will be Benedicts’s choice and Berone is fgoing to be in the Conclave to communicate Benedict’s views while others like Sodano – Benedict’s big opponent – who is over 80 are not.

  • BarneyT

    Surely the very notion of a living, retired Pope only undermines the existing Pope…which I have no problem with personally. Benedict can only serve as a distraction. He will be to his successor what Bill is to Obama.

    Can you imagine having a retired Queen of England with Charlie boy as King? The country will always look to the Queen, as they now will Benedict….those that follow him (I qualify).

    No Pope is of any particular use until he does the following:

    – Considers it possible for the Pope to be a “she”
    – Introduces marriage to the clergy (my view is it is a requirement if they are to advise on life and relationship and gain a sufficient understanding of it)
    – Unite the Christian church (if only to dissolve one of the differentiating factors on this island)
    – Distributes some of the wealth that has been amassed over hundreds of years.
    – Removes the alignment between Godliness and dripping with gold! (As far I am aware that did not impress JC).

    So…how about the Queen of England for Pope? She’s certainly youthful enough 🙂

  • Newman

    The allegation here is that Benedict was one of the most corrupt Popes there has ever been. The evidence is allegedly that the RC Church has been guilty of covering up its seedier financial side. Remind me again how it is alleged that Benedict personally sanctioned such a cover up. All institutions are prone to corruption because they are run by human beings.Benedict was the one who pointed out the “filth in the Church” Be careful in your rush to judgment and willingness to castigate…God judges the motives and secret thoughts of our hearts not people far removed from the situation who happen to a have a little knowledge. To condemn the Catholic Church for its many failings is one thing; to personalise it and attribute blame to one individual without anything but generalised evidence is unjust. …I strongly suspect that Benedict will be remembered as a good and holy man who struggled honestly and seriously with the legacy of child abuse. For Catholics who love the Church despite its many failings he has been an inspirational and humble leader. Before you play word games with “moral relativism” go and read what he says about the subject..it makes sense.

  • Greenflag

    Newman ,

    ‘The evidence is allegedly that the RC Church has been guilty of covering up its seedier financial side.’

    The evidence that the RC Church covered up it’s even seedier pedophile abuse scandals is no longer challenged by the Church . Why would it be any different for the seedy financial side .Ask the parishoners of Galway about their missing 75,000 Euros which went to the upkeep in the style to which she was accustomed of Bishop Casey’s American mistress ?

    While it’s true that all institutions are prone to corruption because they are run by human beings the banksters , government and corporate institutions do not sell an eternal blissful continued heavenly existence -they merely promise the secular minded heaven or hell on earth -depending at which end of the economic and social hierarchy a person finds themselves .As per standard operating procedures those at the bottom of the pyramid get it in the neck from the above said secular institutions and from what we can deduce from the behaviour of the RC Church in regard to the worldwide scandals -it’s again the poorest and weakest and the most defenceless whose abuse was covered up by Church authorities .As the RC Church is not a ‘democratic ‘ institution the decision making is made at levels where there is no public accountability .

    ‘God judges the motives and secret thoughts of our hearts ‘

    Thats your faith and I won’t deny you that comfort .I don’t happen to share it .

    The list of corrupt Popes is a long one . But that’s what gave rise to the Reformation and the Counter Reformation .

    Angels on pin heads -Keep counting them but just make sure the ‘revenue stream ‘ keeps coming in from the faithful .

    As I said above it’s a business .There may be no business like show business but there’ s no easier way to part fools from their money than via religion -all religions .

    Not that I would deny the RC Church’s historical role of being a significant part of humanity’s advance in many spheres of life in earlier historical times .But that was then .

  • Newman


    Forgive me, the issue I have is with the allegation that Benedict is personally corrupt. Can we deal with this as one would normally deal with a person accused and look at the evidence which links Benedict personally to the serious crimes that have been committed in the Church. You have not provided anything but general evidence about the Catholic church and made various sweeping statements. My personal views on faith are irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion. You have endorsed the statement that Benedict is one of the most corrupt Popes ever…..I have asked for the evidence . That is not unreasonable…

  • Greenflag

    I cannot prove that Benedict was/is one of the most corrupt Popes .Who could and how ?. A non existent God ? All I know is that any previously held general perceptions of the RC Church authorities as being above corruption financial or otherwise are past their sell by date . As Benedict is Supreme Pontiff the buck stops at his desk and presumably the full responsibility also .

    As Benedict will be retiring for the rest of his life behind the cloistered world of a convent one supposes he will not be summoned out from behind those walls to answer for any ‘malfeasance’ by his chosen successor .

    ‘I have asked for the evidence . That is not unreasonable…’

    True .

    You will have to pursue that issue with tacapall assuming he’s still interested in this thread . In the meantime I’ll withdraw what you see as my full endorsement of tacapall’s viewpoint re Benedict’s personal corruption status and rank in the long list of corrupt Pontiffs -until he provides the ‘evidence ‘.

  • Newman


    I would agree that there is a long list of Popes who history judged to have been corrupt..I don’t think Benedict XVI will be one of them. The recognition by Benedict of the dichotomy between the office and the personality is very welcome and may be his lasting legacy to the Church.

    Further I agree that in so far as actions took place on the watch of this pope he bears an ultimate responsibility even if he did not sanction or approve. The child abuse crisis has been a dreadful and damaging scandal and the cover up of same has been just as reprehensible

  • FuturePhysicist

    There is a whole class of science politics out there, yet looking at the few times Slugger moves away from reporting Astronomic Stories, we get blogs instead of science we have a blogger attention seeking on the basis of giving attention to another post written 5 years before.

    Any issue with the Pope can be addressed in another subject, Pope Francis is a chemistry graduate, I find it somewhat amusing that you could get a better debate about science policy from him than you would get from people who feel that simply being secular is scientific in itself.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The entire blog is skewed towards personal narcissism and ignores science, you need to click on a hyperlink to get any scientific mentions.