Monday, February 11, 2013

Shocking News from Rome

To say I was shocked upon hearing this news first thing this morning would be an understatement. Tory Royalist called me up and I was told, "you're not going to believe this" and indeed it took a bit of frantic channel flipping and listening to the full statement before I accepted that this was not some sort of joke. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has announced his abdication as Supreme Pontiff, Bishop of Rome, etc, etc. Once the shock sunk in I began to wonder who might be next. The Pope announced his abdication (in Latin -how long will that last now) as being effective from the 28th day of this month, stunning the world. The only reasons given were basically age and infirmity, despite the fact that Benedict XVI is still a young man when compared to Pope Leo XIII who reigned into his 90's and he is certainly far more able than his immediate predecessor Pope John Paul II was in the final years of his papacy. The world has been stunned by this unprecedented event, coming on the heels of the abdication of HM Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands which also sparked a great deal of talk over the (possible but highly unlikely) abdication of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Not having time as yet to check the records, the only prior case of a papal abdication that comes to my mind is that of St Celestine V which happened over seven hundred years ago. There was never a rule against it (and one would be hard to enforce since the Pope can pretty much do as he pleases) but it is as close to being unprecedented as anything could be.

My initial reaction was one of bewilderment. Of all the recent popes, Benedict XVI is the last one I would have expected to walk off the job. John Paul II certainly would have had more justification given his very frail condition (the man could barely even speak) and it would not have surprised me coming from Paul VI who broke with a number of traditions and who was, by the end of his reign, a rather depressed man under criticism from every quarter. For Benedict XVI to abdicate however, I would have bet my last dime that such a thing would never happen. Yet it has. I have to say, in all honesty, my opinion of Benedict XVI is not quite the same as it was when I went to sleep last night, unaware of what was going on in Rome at the time. As I said at the announcement of the Dutch abdication, I am not terribly fond of abdications in general and this one even less so for a variety of reasons.

In some monarchies, like The Netherlands, abdication has become the norm rather than the exception. This is certainly not the case at the Vatican and, whereas the next King of The Netherlands is a known quantity, no one knows who will be elected to sit on the Throne of St Peter after Benedict XVI. He has done a good deal to "pack the college" as they say, but there is still no guarantee when it comes to elections. It also seems incredible that Benedict XVI could cite age and infirmity as reasons for his abdication given what was endured by John Paul II. The Pope also made mention of his increasing inability to travel and yet, such travels are hardly a job requirement. In the history of the papacy they are a recent innovation. I don't think any pontiff from Pius VII to Paul VI ever left Italy and, of course, from Leo XIII to Benedict XV no pope ever even left Vatican City. In short, none of the reasons given really seem to hold up in my opinion and it makes me rather sad to say so. The papacy does not have to be simply a young man's job.

As with secular monarchs, and perhaps even moreso, the individual ability of a Pope is but one aspect of a larger picture. He serves a purpose simply by being there, by just existing he symbolizes a great deal and he is there, not just for what he can do, but for his people to believe in, to be a reassurance that the chain is unbroken, the bridge is still standing and, to quote a famous poem, "God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world". He could have carried out his mission (in my opinion) without ever even leaving the Apostolic Palace if he did not feel up to it and, though I am sorry if this offends anyone, it just seems to me like throwing in the towel. From what I have seen, most seem to be shocked but wishing the Pope well and accepting that he made the right decision. For myself, I cannot totally agree. Some important steps were made during his reign for a return to tradition and who is to say what will become of that now? Everyone should hope for the best but it seems to me that this is not something that we should have to be faced with right now -and goodness knows I can already hear the conspiracy mill getting fired up. This will be their biggest boost since the sudden death of John Paul I.

I suppose I could look at it as a good thing that most people seem to be reacting as positively and trustingly as they are. However, and again I am sorry if this offends or upsets anyone, the nagging notion at the back of my mind continues to be that this is simply quitting. In my view, that is a luxury a pope does not have barring some extraordinary circumstances. The captain is supposed to go down with the ship and if God chooses you for a position, you do your best in that position until God himself calls you home and not before. If that means the Pope can no longer travel, no problem, the people can come to him. Again, I think of John Paul II who could barely speak and could not move around on his own at all, yet he continued to soldier on and gave the world an example about how to deal with suffering and how to honor and appreciate the elderly. This is significant to me only because I could accept such an abdication more easily if there was some better reason for it but old age just doesn't pass muster with me and I never thought Benedict XVI would be one to do it. True, as a cardinal he had tried to resign before but John Paul II would not allow it and the then Cardinal Ratzinger said that he could not simply retire while seeing what the Pope at the time was going through, with even greater burdens than he had, without giving up.

I wish I could be more positive about this and, believe it or not, I do try to look on the bright side of things once in a while but, so far, I really cannot see this as a good thing. Perhaps it will take a little time to see it differently. In any case, I wish the soon-to-be former Pope all the best and I hope a worthy man is chosen to take his place. One sure way to tell will be if there is a coronation or not. After all, we have been told that with Benedict XVI it was talked about but that there simply wasn't time to organize such a ceremony. Well, this time there shouldn't be any excuses. If the next pope wants one, there is no good reason why he shouldn't have one. That will tell us something about the man from the very start.


  1. Like everyone else, I'm shocked to hear this --especially since my dad had nothing but high praise for him when he was a Cardinal, and so I had a lot of trust in his leadership. This isn't to say that another man can't be a good Pope, but as you say, he was working towards a return to tradition and that may or may not happen under new leadership. I don't believe in abdication either, but I'm sure God will take care of it all.

  2. I am surprised too and unsure what to think. I just hope all the good work Pope Benedict XVI has been doing continues.

  3. Although I'm not a Catholic, as a traditionalist Christian I fear that his relative traditionalism may actually have been one of the reasons for his resignation, which may not have been entirely by his own will - certain powerful liberals may have secretly forced it. In that case we can only hope that his successor may have a traditional coronation and uphold Christian traition.

  4. He did not so much cite old age and infirmity as admit he lacks the strength to fulfill the task ahead. There's a critical difference in the details.

    As to his efforts to restore much of what was abandoned in the wake of the last Council and the madness of the silly season...that's the aspect I'm least concerned with. Since I think those actions were guided by the Holy Ghost I don't anticipate any successor undoing those acts. But, to the extent that many treacherous priests and prelates still refuse to implement those decrees, perhaps a younger man may have the strength necessary to battle for hearts and wills.

    His continuing to live a life of prayerful, penitent seclusion in the cloister of the Vatican will also contribute to fostering an air of continuity.

    I, too, am uncomfortable with the abdication. But it is a done deal, having been officially promulgated as required by law. And the laws governing succession have made provision for this kind of situation.

    As to the future, that is, as always, in the Hands of the Almighty. He'll send us the pope we need even if it isn't the one we want or deserve. Oremus

  5. MM, I felt the same way about the resignation. Generally, if God gives you the post, only God should be able to take it away. However, I thought about the figure of the Regent. I don't believe that figure exists in the Vatican, while it does exist in other monarchies. When George III went mad, his son became Regent. If HH believes that this is a crucial point in the Church's history that requires someone with the mental and physical strength to reign, perhaps his decision is to avoid an effective sede vacante while he falls deeper into senility. Could he have appointed a regent? I don't think so.

  6. Although I don't like the idea of abdications in monarchies, I am conscious that the Papacy is not only a monarchy, but an episcopate. I am Orthodox, not Catholic, but have the greatest respect for His Holiness Benedict XVI and his efforts to bring stability and reason to the wildly rocking boat of Catholicism. If this man, who is wise, pious, intelligent, and devoted, came to a decision "in conscience," then despite my sadness to see him go, I respect and trust his decision. He has never been one to avoid hard things, but seven years in that august Office in this day and age has to have taken a terrible toll on someone his age.

    In the Christian tradition, having the humility to say "I am not (or am no longer) up to this," is quite respectable, especially when there is no provision for a "regent" to step in and take on the day to day duties. May God bless and uphold His Holiness in the days ahead and grant him time for reflection, prayer, contemplation, and a pious preparation for being called home to the Lord he loves.

  7. Lycurgus raises a good point. As unprecedented as an abdication is, there is at least a mechanism in place for effecting it. The concept of a regent simply does not exist in any way, shape, or form regarding the papacy. So, if a Pope really, truly, and honestly feels he can no longer fulfill the obligations of the office, abdication really becomes the only way out for him.

    Personally, I think it's obvious that Benedict XVI has been doing an excellent job and should go down as one of the greatest Popes in modern history. I suspect that he is still more than capable of fulfilling his duties, as you say, certainly more so that John Paul II was at the same age, but I have no way of knowing what he's been dealing with privately or what he's really feeling in his mind and body.

    I wish him all the best, and pray for a worthy successor to continue his works, and will just have to trust that it will all work out. I just hope that this was really and truly his decision and his alone and that he wasn't somehow pressured by any outside forces. I haven't seen any evidence of that, so I guess I'll choose to err on the side of optimism, because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.

  8. My first thought was how dare he put the Papacy in his 'too hard box' ..... followed quickly by the conviction that there is a lot more going on here than anyone knows. I don't really think his health is the major problem, as he said 'I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by 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 barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary - strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.'

    It appears he was saying that he was up to the personal suffering bit but he was losing the battle with politics within the church.

    Apparently none of the cardinals had any inkling that he was contemplating this and were all totally shocked, most of them didn't even understand what he was saying and had to have it translated for them.....using Latin for the announcement was significant I feel , a last gesture to the old church traditions and doctrines perhaps?

    A doctor familiar with the pope's medical team said the Pontiff has no grave or life-threatening illnesses he was simply old and tired.

    Definitely more going on here than just his poor health.

  9. As for the possibility of the need for a regent being raised at some point, the papacy has survived for a couple thousand years without ever having one and I'm sure in all that time there must have been a few occasions that would have warranted it. Personally, I wouldn't want there to be such a thing simply because I don't want anyone having the power to say a pope is incapacitated. As for understanding his reasons, I can only take him at his word and I have heard nothing that would justify this in my book -and I'm not trying to be critical. This wouldn't bother me at all even I did not hold Benedict in the highest esteem.

    No one should feel obliged to try to convince me. I cannot fathom a circumstance where I would find it understandable for a pope to say "I quit, find someone else". There's also the fact that (according to the professionals) I am not mentally well and when it comes to monarchs of any sort I have always been fond of the very, very old and the very, very young. I know it's not ideal but to me, the image of those cases always made a beautiful point that it is not about the individual, whether an aged invalid or a helpless infant, but rather what they represent that matters.

  10. I think to see this as "retiring" is an error. He's not retiring to a life of ease, saying by way of departure, "Chuck it, Lord, this is too hard."

    He's abdicating the duties of the office, which means abdicating the office, and going to live a life of seclusion and prayer in the Vatican. He's taking up a heavier burden that he does, in conscience, feel called by God to bear in part because he does not believe he is still capable of fulfilling his duties as Pontifex Maximus.

    Fr. Byers at Holy Souls Hermitage has some excellent meditations on what this means and I think his are the most Christian assessment of this decision.

    Lent begins for us Latins this evening with Vespers. It will be a particularly penitential Lent, I think. Preparation for the rigors of the spiritual warfare ahead and sacrifices for the good of Holy Mother Church.

  11. No offense, but he doesn't have to justify this to you.

    I for one am willing to give him benefit of the doubt as he saw what an ailing and infirm papacy is like first hand. This makes me wonder as to what he sees on the horizon that I don't know about. Whatever it is, His Holiness has prayed and determined that his staying would be worse than his abdication. That makes me nervous.

    1. Well, no offense, but you don't have to read my opinions either. A father, temporal or spiritual cannot just stop being a father. He takes care of his children as long as he can and when he cannot, they take care of him. If it is really God that chooses the Pope then it should only be God who decides when his job is done. The example of JP2 was one of carrying your cross no matter what your station is.

    2. But that is what is happening. He his going to be a hermit in the Vatican and pray for the Church till his last breath. That's is the familial piety you call upon.

      While the Pope is King of the Vatican City, he is only the Regent of the Church, Christ's Vicar. Remember, Cardinal Ratzinger was the closest thing there was to a regent for HH John Paul II, and he knew his predecessor's suffering more than anyone save His Holiness and God. If he thinks it is going to be worse than that, as he alludes to in his speech, we best be cautious.

  12. I am very hopeful that the next Pope will revive the coronation and the papal tiara. Paul VI always planned on his successor being crowned, John Paul I didn't live long enough to be crowned, and Pope John Paul II said that the tiara is viewed wrongly as a symbol of gross temporal power, which was something he assuredly had to avoid when dealing as he did with the God-less, regicidal Soviets and the American Republic. But now that most nations aren't too anti-monarch, and monarchism seems to be on the upswing, I think the new pope will not have to fear being viewed as a possessor of gross, unjust, power.

  13. I know Wikipedia is not the best source of information but last time I checked the article about the Pope about a month ago it said that he said that he would step down if he thought the job would become to much for him at his age. I am a bit surprised at the seemingly complete surprise of the cardinals but I was not surprised when I heard the news. I would agree that it is best to keep by the God given task to the death just as in the case of monarchs. As to his successor we know that God is in control of the conclave and will see to it that the right man is picked. Pray for that man and the conclave all the same. As to a coronation, considering the day in which we live I highly doubt that there would be one because those managing PR for the Vatican are afraid of such things.

  14. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't saddened and disappointed by Pope Benedict's abdication. I, too, think the Pope should die in harness. On the other hand, Flambeaux rightly points out the nuances of the abdication speech. There is more to this than meets the eye. Based on his life-long track record, coupled with the charisms that go with the Petrine Office, I doubt if anyone sees further and deeper than Pope Benedict. There must have been an extraordinary reason for this extraordinary step. I believe it will turn out that the Pope has done this in order to avert or at least mitigate some looming disaster, even at the cost of being viewed as a shirker and a coward (as he is indeed viewed in some circles).

    As far as anyone undoing the Pope's work of restoring tradition in the Church, I don't think this can happen, at least in the long run. As disastrous as were the stupid fads and experiments of the 20th century, they are nothing compared with the overwhelming weight of the traditions that developed slowly and steadily over centuries. The Mass of Paul VI has been around only for the blink of an eye compared with the Tridentine Mass and the other preconciliar rites, which nurtured generations of saints and were not cobbled up by committees of liberals. And, despite frantic efforts to the contrary, Latin has not ceased to be the language of the Church, as Bl. John XXIII reaffirmed in his apostolic constitution Veterum sapientia in 1962. Whatever happens to her captain, the Barque of Peter will not sink.


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