Monday, February 11, 2013
A Truly Historic Announcement
"Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St Peter ...
"As from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours (1900 GMT) the See of Rome, the See of St. Peter will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."
Whatever one makes of the resignation of Pope Benedict, one has to admit this is historic. For the first time in forever I slept in this morning and when I turned on my computer and saw the headline on Yahoo I was stunned, and yet not that surprised, not really. When I look at the past year, there were signs this was coming. Pope Benedict reacted slowly and with confusion to the Vatileaks affair. He called a consistory on very short notice which elevated some of his favorite sons to the College of Cardinals. He promoted Georg Ganswein to Archbishop and I am sure will appoint him to Regensburg before February 28th. He forgave his butler. He released a series of motu proprios. He appointed another German in his image and likeness to head the CDF. He seemed to be sweeping his desk clean, finishing his bucket list. He had stated a number of years ago that he would consider resignation if the office got too difficult. He is being true to his own vision of the papacy.
A number of comments on various blogs speculate that Benedict will meddle in the election of his successor. I don't think he will because he's already appointed his successor to the one office he truly cared about, and that's the head of the CDF. If the last fifty or so years have shown anything, it's that the real power behind the throne is the CDF. It began with the meddling of Cardinal Ottaviani in the documents of Vatican II and continued through 28 years of Cardinal Ratzinger, then Cardinal Levada, and now the strong arm tactics of Gerhard Mueller. Benedict has the man in place to protect the theological path of the Church--which has always been Benedict's first concern--and that was closely followed by how that theology played out in the liturgy. On these two tasks of asserting his conservative theology and having that theology play out in the liturgy, his work is done. He can retire to write his own legacy.
Part of that legacy, whether he intended this or not, is that he has made the point in spades that the office of Pope is just that, an office. It's not an ascension to a semi divine all knowing ontologically different human state. The Pope is not Jesus Christ with a private hotline to the Holy Spirit. The Pope is just another man who can get old and tired and admit the office is too much. It maybe this one act which will cement Benedict's legacy. It maybe this one act for which the Holy Spirit had anything at all to do with his election to the Papacy.
The next Pope will have to deal with the mess in the curia. Benedict's legacy will also include little things like a Vatican Bank without leadership, ATM's that have been shutdown because of the Vatican Bank, the demoralization in diplomatic corps, the overweaning influence of parallel churches like Opus Dei and the Neo Cats, the prevalence of corruption in high office, the Italian influence on how the curia does it's business and on and on and on. But the first thing the new pope will have to deal with is Benedict's legacy of clerical abuse.
Benedict did not deal particularly well with clerical abuse as Pope, and did a dismal job as head of the CDF. I always thought it was karmic that his papacy was so tainted by his own job performance as head of the CDF. If Benedict thinks retirement will protect him from the lawyers at the Hague, he may be mistaken. In any event it is imperative the next pope have clean hands when it comes to clerical abuse. That leaves out almost all American Cardinals. Thank God.
This has been a stunning and historic day. It seems I have had the privilege of living through a lot of stunning and historic days for Roman Catholicism. As Benedict stated in his retirement announcement "today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith" is changing faster than anyone man can hope to keep up with, and in the end that may be his last and final message for his successor. Collegiality was a good idea after all. It's all just too much for one man.