Monday, December 19, 2011

Why it Might Be GOOD if Pope Benedict Does Resign

Let me begin by saying I am a gigantic fan of Pope Benedict and he helped form me into the priest I am just as much as the seminary did. I have a book I've written on his theological ideas, although I'm still trying to clean it up for publishing. Needless to say, I am a fan.

Stories are starting to surface that the Pontiff is aging and seems tired and worn down. He has himself called attention several times to the fact that a pope is able to resign if he so chooses, the only requirement being that he not be forced to do so.

I believe that if Pope Benedict were to resign it could be very instructive and catechetical for both the Church and the world at large.

Blessed Pope John Paul II chose not to resign, and I think it was because his NOT resigning allowed him an opportunity to teach the world about suffering, about the dignity of the elderly, and it gave him a chance to put into practice the teaching on end of life issues (specifically the teaching he helped clarify - the idea that all people should be hydrated and fed until life is no longer sustainable).

Just as JP II clinging to his papacy to the very end served to educate the world, I think Benedict RESIGNING could serve as a very helpful and much needed teaching moment as well.

Some writers have talked about the confusion that would exist in most people's minds if there were "two popes." That most people see "two popes" as somehow problematic illustrates exactly why we could be well-served by experiencing just such a scenario.

Many people completely fail to grasp the idea of papal infallibility. I myself did not properly understand the teaching until I was in the seminary and had a chance to study it in depth. In the mind of most people the Church believes that a pope can do no wrong - that God somehow protects the pontiff from any and all error and sin. This of course leads those both outside and inside the Church to scoff - "look at all the bad popes through all the years, clearly your doctrine of infallibility is laughable!!!"

But infallibility only applies to when the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is teaching something in a very clear way or declaring something in a very clear way as being infallible, only then is said teaching actually held to be infallible. The times where a pope declares something infallibly are few and far between.

It would be very healthy for people to realize that INFALLIBILITY IS RARE AND ONLY APPLIES TO THE OFFICE NOT TO THE MAN. The Pope is a bishop like all other bishops. Pope Benedict has a cathedral, he oversees the diocese of Rome, he baptizes, he runs capital campaigns, he approves the building of new Churches in the diocese, he ordains priest for his diocese and so forth. What does set him apart is the fact that from the beginning of the Church there is a clear deference to the Bishop of Rome by the other bishops of the world on matters that needed resolution by an authority.

Being pope makes a person really no more SPIRITUALLY guided by God than any other bishop throughout the world. Becoming pope does not make a person into some super-human-angelic hybrid - a bishop who becomes the bishop of Rome takes on AN OFFICE which can be laid aside and assumed by someone else without any problem in the mind of those who understand what a bishop is and what the pope is.

Perhaps this would be a much needed lesson for both those in the Church and those who would perhaps enter under Her roof if only they properly understood what the office of the papacy is and what it is not.


  1. I'm not sure I agree - and for the same reason I don't think bishops should retire.

    That is, although the role is an office, it is also a vocation to relationship; that is, it is more like fatherhood than it is like a job.

    I will be a father till the day I die: I could no more retire out of it than I could turn into a pumpkin.

    That is a lesson the world could usefully learn, I think...

  2. I also question my agreement, primarily because though the lesson is one the world at large needs to learn regarding infallibility, 1. I heartily doubt that it would be a lesson well-learned. many people, inside and outside the Church, believe what they want to believe, and there are only too many media outlets willing to help muddy the waters. 2. I selfishly want the reign of Pope Benedict and the wonderful good being wrought in the Church and the world through his ministry to continue. While I have faith that God will provide another shepherd, I am, like yourself, Father, quite find of this one. Ad multos annos!!!

  3. Ben,

    Thanks for your comment. There are certainly many bishops that do not have a diocese that they are currently shepherding, so it is important to realize that while the office can be given and laid down (and taken away in some cases) the soul is forever changed when one is consecrated a bishop. Another important discussion that would be healthy for Catholics.

  4. Anthony,

    I too question whether it would be learned but I am sure that more people would be forced to reconsider their view of the papacy if there were "2 popes" than if the succession continues as it has for many hundreds of years (I can't remember when the last time there were 2 popes, I thought I read recently that it was about 500 years ago).

  5. Does the Pope have to specifically say he is speaking from ex cathedra (is that the phrase?) in order for his teachings to be considered infallible? I have heard that the Pope's have only used this "right" a few times in history - is this correct?

  6. Pardon - I meant Popes plural.

  7. Over the years this was one of the things I struggled with in our Catholic faith. This really put things into perspective for me.

  8. I believe Fr. John commented about the perceived problem of having two Popes. I was recently reading about the Papacy of Pope Pius XII and saw an article from the Daily Telegraph stating that should The Vatican be sacked and the Pope taken hostage, that Pius XII had written a resignation letter effective if he had been arrested or taken hostage by the Nazi's. The College of Cardinals were suppose to convene a conclave in Portugal (which was a neutral country) and elect his successor. Upon a popes resignation he is no longer a Pope, he is just His Eminence Cardinal X. So if Pope Benedict XVI resigns, upon his resignation he would be called Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I like the supposed quote from Pius XII "the person who would leave under these conditions would not be Pius XII but Eugenio Pacelli". Oh and here's the link to that article:

  9. Yeah, that's why I put "popes" in quotes because there can only be 1 pope, just like there can only be one Archbishop of New Orleans, even though at one point last year, there were four people living within the Archdiocesan boundary who had at one time or another served as Archbishop of New Orleans.

  10. Great post, Father!

    Karyn, I hope Fr. Hollowell does not mind if I post a little primer on the difference between ex cathedra and other types of infallibility, to address your question: