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Three Troubling Aspects of Benedict’s Resignation

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Three Troubling Aspects of Benedict’s Resignation


By John Vennari

Among other concerns, there are three troubling aspects of Benedict’s resignation.

1) It contradicts the aspect of fatherhood that is the nature of the office. In the 1980s, the Eastern Rites bishops were not happy when the Vatican forced them to adopt mandatory retirement at age 75. As one Eastern Rite priest explained to me, “a father of a family does not retire.”

2) It has the appearance of a CEO stepping down and drifting into retirement, which gives the impression of yet more secular structures adopted by the Church.

3) It opens the door for abuse. Even if we take Pope Benedict at his word that he retires because he truly believes he does not have the strength to continue, the precedent is established for a good Pope to be pressured into retirement on the pretext of failing health.


De Mattei’s Worry


It seems clear that Pope Benedict has been thinking about ‘retirement’ for some time. On April 29, 2009, he stopped to visit the tomb of Pope Saint Celestine V, the Pope who abdicated his office in 1296. Benedict prayed at the tomb and left his palium, the symbol of his authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine’s tomb. On July 4, 2010, he visited the Cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, and prayed before the relics of Celestine V.

Chiesa webpage reports that Church historian Roberto de Mattei expresses his profound unease with Benedict’s resignation. While he accepts its “legality”, de Mattei notes that from the historical point of view, the resignation of pope Benedict “appears to be in absolute discontinuity with the tradition and praxis of the Church”.

"One cannot make a comparison either with Celestine V, who quit after being dragged away by force from his hermit's cell, or with Gregory XII, who was forced to resign in order to resolve the very serious question of the Great Western Schism. These were exceptional cases. But what is the exception in the action of Benedict XVI? The official reason, engraved in his words of February 11, expresses, more than the exception, the rule.”

It is the “rule” that would simply coincide with “vigor of both body and mind.” But then “the question arises”:

“Over two thousand years of history, how many Popes have reigned in good health and have not witnessed the decline of their powers and have not suffered from illnesses and moral trials of every kind? Physical well-being has never been a criterion of governance of the Church. Will it be so beginning with Benedict XVI?”

If this be the case, writes de Mattei, the action of Benedict XVI takes on an impact “not simply innovative, but revolutionary”:

“The image of the pontifical institution, in the eyes of public opinion all over the world, would in fact be stripped of its sacrality to be handed over to the criteria of judgment of modernity.”

De Mattei notes that this would achieve the objective repeatedly set forth by Hans Küng and other progressive theologians: that of reducing the pope “to the president of a board of administration, to a purely arbitral role, accompanied by a permanent synod of bishops with deliberative powers.”

Excepted from the March 2013 Catholic Family News (now being mailed)



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