Monday, February 11, 2013

Some thoughts on the pope's resignation

I want to share here some thoughts I had about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement today that he will resign at the end of the month.  I wrote this over on Rod Dreher's blog, in the comments, and realized that I might as well share it here rather than attempt to write something new; this is pretty much what I think so far, though I've been very interested to read other reactions:


I was deeply surprised by this news this morning, but to say that I’m either shocked or upset by it would be too much. In the last couple of years I’ve attended several funerals of parishioners in their 80s or even late 70s, and I know that people in this age group often go from relatively healthy to incapacitated rather quickly. We think that because many live longer and some are active into their 90s that we’ve conquered the frailty of old age, but this isn’t true. If Pope Benedict XVI has seen in himself the signs of ill health and wants to spare the Church the long decline that she went through with JPII–who, ironically, might have felt pressured to remain in the papacy precisely because various factions in the Church were calling for his resignation so strongly–we should trust him that he has good reasons.

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Look for the American media to throw the word “unprecedented” around, even though it’s inapplicable. Just because the last time a pope resigned it was about 77 years before Columbus set sail and ended up here does not mean the Church hasn’t ever seen this before. The Church has been around a lot longer than the American media (Deo gratias!).

2. Anyone who expresses the notion that this pope’s papacy was a failure hasn’t read any of his encyclicals or other writings. This was not a papacy of reform, but a papacy of instruction in the fundamentals. It was necessary that such instruction would precede a papacy of reform, just as it was necessary that a period of reflection and care would precede the retranslation of the Mass into English (and as to that, a mere 40 years was *quick,* people–we’re dealing with Ents).

3. The marginal Catholics or non-Catholics who think the next pope will usher in their specific radical innovations (e.g., women priests, Church approval for contraception, lay-led Eucharists, or whatever other nonsense is out there) are doomed to be disappointed, because they always will be.

4. The ultra-Trad Catholics who think that the next pope will rise up and crush the Novus Ordo (better known as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite–get used to that term, please!), female altar servers, or bad music are also doomed to be disappointed, because they also always will be.

5. The people inside or outside the Church who have visions of a pope who will singlehandedly toss out heretic or erring bishops, place whole nations under interdict for their faithlessness, excommunicate Catholic politicians (in America and other nations) on the left for being pro-abortion and on the right for being pro-torture etc., and otherwise resemble a movie character or a media caricature instead of an actual pope are likewise doomed to be disappointed–and the ironic thing is that if any pope ever actually exhibited such characteristics the most disappointed people would be the ones who profess to want this.

6. The so-called Malachy prophecy is nearing its expiration date–and by that I mean that it is overwhelmingly likely that it is a fake and will be proved so when the next pope after this coming one is elected. This will not stop the media from running breathless “Is this the last pope?” articles from the time Benedict’s successor is elected until the time *that* pope’s successor is elected, and if they can get away with it they’ll keep going after that. But eventually people will lose interest.

7. The Cafeteria *is* closed, and always has been. The mistake some made is that they thought that instead of a cafeteria the Church was serving a hospital dinner or an airplane in-flight meal on a rigidly sectioned tray, when she has always been presiding over a banquet. That is why it doesn’t trouble her to permit the Extraordinary Form while refining the Ordinary Form in the Roman Rite, while simultaneously embracing a multiplicity of other rites centered around her Eucharistic feast. Those who think of the Church as a cafeteria from which they can select the truths or ideas they like and reject the rest are just as wrong as those who label as evil innovations the Church’s outspoken stance against the death penalty as being unnecessary to the modern state, and against torture as being an unjust and evil objectification of the human person.

The bottom line for me is this: if Pope Benedict XVI thinks he’s no longer strong enough for what has become in the modern age a physically and mentally demanding position, I think his decision to resign shows his characteristic graciousness and humility, and wish him well, and pray for him and for his successor.


Okay, your turn.  What do you think?  Comment box is open (though still moderated, alas).


Magister Christianus said...

My comments are in the form of my post "Habuimus Papam" at

B et G said...

I have to be honest that my reaction was and still is "No! I don't want a different Pope! I want THIS Pope!" I just have so much admiration and affection for him. But I agree with you and it makes me angry that people would question his integrity. He has always, always shown himself to be very wise and prudent and I have no doubt his reasons are just. And...I hope he has a chance to write that book on cats he had been hoping to write. :)

Rebecca in ID

Jacque said...

I have a special attachement to this Holy Father... He was elected just 4 months before I gave my Profession of Faith. We also share a birthday... But having said that, I have to express my confidence in the Holy Spirit and what is to come for our Holy Catholic Church.

When I converted, I did so knowing that whatever happens to the church that Jesus Christ founded, it is the will of the Father.

I think now it's time to just pray for our Holy Father Benedict and also for the man that the Holy Spirit chooses to lead us forward.

Chris-2-4 said...

My greatest disappointment is that it appears he will not finish and issue his Encyclical on Faith to round out "the trilogy" with his ones on Hope and Love.