11 February 2013

Pope Resigns Effective Feb 28th

Benedict leaves consistory after announcement
Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will resign on February 28th, only the fifth man to do so, the first for reasons of health, and the third for the welfare of the Church. I think this is a decision to be greatly respected; it is especially informed by the lingering and powerless end of John Paul II's pontificate when the Pope was truly unable to exercise his Office with vigor (and perhaps independence) of any sort. Benedict XVI is setting a precedent of conscience in the modern Church which, one hopes, future Popes (and their Curia!) will also honor in their own lives. Just as he did in explaining the place of conscience in elections, Benedict has shown that primacy of conscience, and the formation of an ability to discern and preference competing values and then to act on one's conscience judgment is demanded at every point in one's life as a Catholic --- no matter how significant one's role nor how ever unpopular or unusual this judgment may be. God's authentic Tradition is a living and vibrant one and this certainly includes the Petrine ministry.

Not all may see it this way of course, JP II's former personal secretary, Stanislaw Dzwisz, noted: [[“Pope John Paul II decided to stay on the papal throne until the end of his life because he felt that it is not right to come down from the cross." This may or may not have been a veiled criticism of Benedict, however (some commentators suggested it was); Dziwisz may have been defending the prudence and justice of JP II's decision in light of numerous comments of admiration and respect for Benedict's integrity and concern for the welfare of the Church in this matter. Whatever the truth of the matter in this regard, I think we have to understand that the papacy is a ministry in the Church and that, like all ministries, it requires those who can fulfill its requirements with their whole selves. The charism of infallibility alone does not assure that a Pope is adequate to fulfill this ministry well, especially in the face of age-related frailty and illness. Neither is this automatically a person's cross unto death or resignation would not even be a possibility, much less provided for canonically. Neither of these trumps what Benedict's decision says about the place of  primacy of conscience and prudential judgment in determining what one is called to do in order to act responsibly in this ministerial role.

Let us pray for Benedict XVI, in gratitude for his courage, theological and personal integrity, and his prudence in this matter; let us also pray for his continuing good health. His statement summarizing his decision follows:

"Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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.

 For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."