Monday, February 11, 2013

UPDATE: Why it Might Be GOOD if Pope Benedict Resigns

This is a blog post that I originally posted a few months ago following news reports that Pope Benedict was considering retiring as pope.  As the news has broken this morning, Pope Benedict has in fact announced his retirement on February 28th.  I thought I would repost this for all those who are interested. I hope this might help shed some light on some of the theological issues surrounding this historic event. Please pray for the Holy Father Pope Benedict, and for those who will elect his successor. Pope Benedict's leadership will obviously be missed, but the Church will sail on, and we will carry on towards Heaven. 

Updates will appear here as the atory develops

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. Fr. Hollowell,

    After the 28th of February, will Pope Benedict revert back to a Cardinal then? How does that work after he retires?

    1. He is a cardinal, but he is passed the age to vote. Not sure, if he wasn't passed the age to vote, if he would get a vote.

      The Pope would be a "Pope Emeritus" so to speak. None of the authority of a Pope, but would be able to function and do all the things any other cardinal or Archbishop would be able to do.

      Given his resigning for health reasons, I doubt we would then see him running around doing a lot of sacramental work, but we'll wait and watch to see what the first "Pope Emeritus" in about 600 years will do with his time.

    2. Very prescient Father!

  2. I believe also he could break with history and even appoint his successor, now wouldn't that be news!

  3. I kind of like to think of the case as being similar to that of a retiring abbot at a monastery. He's still around, still referred to as "Pope," but doesn't excercise the Petrine Ministry.


    Adam Chapman