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]