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Pope Benedict’s abdication exemplifies his courage, his radicalism and his humility. All the same, I can’t help it, on March 1, he will still be the Pope to me

We are moving into uncharted territory: the next few weeks are going to be difficult to live through

By on Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Benedict XVI makes his first public appearance since his abdication announcement (Photo: PA)

Benedict XVI makes his first public appearance since his abdication announcement (Photo: PA)

“Pope’s resignation stuns world leaders,” says the Catholic Herald’s headline; and not just them, it stunned most of us; it certainly stunned me, and I have not yet regained my balance. Getting over the deeply held assumption that popes don’t resign is going to take some time, as the implications of the Holy Father’s decision work themselves out. Cardinal Dziwisz, Pope John Paul’s former secretary, has caused something of a stir by saying that the late pope had decided to remain Pope while dying an agonising death from Parkinson’s disease because “you don’t get down from the cross”: this has been interpreted as a criticism of the present Holy Father, though the cardinal denies this. Pope Benedict’s abdication has also been interpreted as an implicit criticism of Pope John Paul’s decision not to abdicate, but to die in office even though towards the end he became incapable of governing the Church. That’s also nonsense. The two men were, are, very different: the end of both pontificates reflects the deep integrity of both of them, each in his own way. Pope John Paul’s final years were, at the time, profoundly inspiring. I have been looking through what I wrote at the time, and have found this: “‘Be not afraid’: it has become almost the watchword for his papacy: not because he has obsessively repeated it for others to follow, but because he has lived it out himself. He is in constant pain; his hands shake with Parkinson’s disease; and still he does not spare himself. The older and more frail he becomes, the more his courage shines out, and the nearer his papal service comes to being a kind of living martyrdom.”

But John Paul’s was not necessarily an example for others to follow in the same way. Benedict is his own man: and his abdication has also manifested great courage and holiness. The secular world, which has not hesitated to criticise his pontificate, has been almost unanimous in its admiration for the manner of his going. “A noble resignation,” the Times newspaper called it, and the paper went on to say: “It is no personal failing that Benedict XVI is the first pontiff in 600 years to resign his office. It is, rather, a manifestation of the immense demands imposed on the Pope by a worldwide Church and of his humility in resolving that he is too frail fully to meet them. It is a noble and selfless decision.”

All true, absolutely true. And yet, and yet; I cannot rid myself of the feeling that when, at one second past 7pm, GMT, on February 28, Pope Benedict XVI reverts to being Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for me he will still be the Pope whatever the juridical procedure says. This isn’t a matter simply of procedures in canon law; the feelings are engaged here, and at the deepest level. Catholics love their pope; and for the pope simply to disappear, for this beloved person to say, in effect, that after the end of this month we will never see him or hear from him again is like a kind of bereavement without a death and the final closure that a good death brings. We are being told by the Vatican authorities that we will have a new pope in place in time for Easter. But I rebelliously find myself saying that I don’t want a new pope: I’ve got a Pope, I’d like to keep him, please.

Well, I can’t. We’re just going to have to get used to it. And living through the coming weeks is not going to be easy. Once there is a new pope in place, it may get easier: but he, too, will have his problems when he comes to assume the burden of papal office, problems that no pope before him has had, because of the circumstances of his election. His predecessor will be not merely still alive but in close proximity: they cannot avoid occasionally meeting, as they walk in the papal gardens where Pope Benedict’s (sorry, Cardinal Ratzinger’s) residence will be situated. Perhaps as the new Pope takes the air he will hear the sounds of beautifully played Mozart floating through the air from the cardinal’s grand piano. It will all be strange, passing strange.

There is one comfort. The wretched Hans Küng has taken the opportunity for (let us hope) one last bitter jibe at Pope Benedict, saying not only that his decision was “understandable for many reasons”. but also that “It is to be hoped, however, that Ratzinger will not exercise an influence on the choice of his successor”. He repeated his old tired criticisms of the Pope, saying finally that “During his time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the Church out of its multifaceted crisis.”

Well, there’s some comfort there: what that actually means is that the Holy Father has appointed a number of men of his own mind, all capable of bringing to completion a radical pontificate which needs a few more years for its work to be finally done, to be made lasting and secure. All the front-runners are exponents of the Ratzingerian revolution. So Hans Küng’s hope that “Ratzinger will not exercise an influence on the choice of his successor” has already been frustrated. For, though Pope Benedict will undoubtedly refrain from any direct interference in the choice of his successor, the die is already cast, and cast by him. Whoever emerges from the conclave as pope, it will be someone he has already chosen. Thank God for that, at least.

  • thanks

    A grandfather pope (proavi) playing Mozart in the Vatican garden cloister, a lovely thought.
    I am hoping for a patrician  Pope for these islands, and note that a new St. Patricii Church has recently been consecrated by Pope Benedict in Rome.

  • JonathanBurdon

    Will the Holy Father not be able to keep the title of pope after his abdication? Will he definitely revert to being a cardinal? Will there be a papal funeral when he dies? I’m also deeply shocked and saddened by this decision, but also very grateful that we’ve had such a great and inspiring pope in Benedict.

  • Jeannine

    I am also in shock that the pope is abdicating.

    Yet it gives me 2 ideas to think about. 1) Looking at the seat of Peter in a different light. Some think this abdication now places the Bishop of Rome ministerially & administratively on the same level as the other bishops. 2)  Understand better the physical health requirements needed to be a pope & understand the aging process better.

    If Pope Benedict was legitmately inspired by the Holy Spirit to step down, then we as a church community should evaluate the “job requirements” needed to lead the Catholic Church for the future. (I am not implying anything against Canon Law.)

  • G Nearing

    No Matter where he goes he always be remembered by the faithful  as the pope  who  stood up for the christian world in a morally decaying society and gave his middle finger to all the secular leftist media journalists who played the role of Satan by telling half truths about the pope’s life, views and his great contributions he left not just to the church but for the world in general. I know I’m going to miss our German Shepard

  • frater sejunctus parvulus

    This outsider to your Communion hopes that he will be granted a full “state” funeral, as it were, and agrees that it will be odd for him to revert to the style HE Joseph Card. Ratzinger. It would be good for a unique category to be invented for him.

  • scary goat

    ” But I rebelliously find myself saying that I don’t want a new pope: I’ve got a Pope, I’d like to keep him, please.”………..I know the feeling.  I loved this Pope…..I just can’t imagine him being gone.  It almost feels like mourning. I keep telling myself the grief would be worse if he had died… least he is still here.  I think we are all a bit in shock at the moment.  It will get better when we have a new Pope to focus our attention.  I liked “thanks” comment about a grandfather-pope playing his piano to be heard in the Vatican gardens…..that’s a comforting thought.  We will get used to it….it will just take time.

    And one thing that shows that all is right with the world….at least Pope Benedict had his time in office and he has set the scene for the future.  Hans Kung can carp all he likes…..he didn’t get a shot at it for a reason.  I’m sure the Holy Spirit knows what He is doing. 

    Come on, Mr Oddie!  Stiff upper lip and all that! (Not that I’ve been doing too well….I have shed a few tears the last couple of days).  But we have to be strong, for Pope Benedict, his successor and the Church. 

    Prayers….lots of prayers.

  • Dorothy

    The fact that the secular press thinks this all wonderful is a reason to worry, not to rejoice.

  • Isaac

    Fear not Dorothy, since when has the secular press understood the spiritual world? Be strong in the Lord.

  • Maccabeus

    Exactly my feelings. When our enemies applaud us we are right to hear alarm bells ringing. 

  • andrew young

    “For, though Pope Benedict will undoubtedly refrain from any direct interference in the choice of his successor, the die is already cast, and cast by him. Whoever emerges from the conclave as pope, it will be someone he has already chosen.”

    In deference to the Holy Spirit; I hope not.  And let us not confuse Benedict’s alleged intentions with the activitiy of the Holy Spirit.

  • Jacobite

    I am shocked, not by the Pope’s courageous decision to resign, but by the antediluvian comments of Mr Oddie and those responding to his blog. Wake up all of you! This is the 21st century. The Papacy is not something preserved in aspic, never to change or develop. It always has to change to keep itself relevant and refreshed in whatever world it finds itself. An important precedent has been set by Pope Benedict. No one ever decreed that the papacy was an office to be held for life. Bishops retire at 75. Cardinals are ‘put out to grass’ at 80, denied a vote in a conclave. In future the Church may expect to have younger, more vigorous men in the eChair of Peter who will not be expected to serve until death, however incapacitated physically or mentally they may become.

  • JabbaPapa

    … sigh …

  • JabbaPapa

    Will the Holy Father not be able to keep the title of pope after his
    abdication? Will he definitely revert to being a cardinal? Will there be
    a papal funeral when he dies?

    No, yes, yes.

  • Daveofthenewcity

    In March last year you wrote about how Popes never retire See

    It really would be interesting to hear whether you now stand by what you said back then (sorry, this is the flip-side of having a public platform like this: your words are there for reference!)

    In particular, you took the opportunity in March (as you do at every opportunity!) to claim superiority for the ways of the Catholic Church over the ways of Anglicans:

    “It does, in a way, explain why no Anglican archbishop can ever have the
    kind of spiritual authority for Anglicans that a Pope has for
    Catholics: the fact is that in accepting the crown of thorns that is
    papal office, the successor of Peter gives himself absolutely and
    irreversibly: there is no escape, no possibility of a peaceful
    retirement; it is — or would be without the strength that only God can
    give — a truly fearsome prospect.”

    So, has the Papacy lost spiritual authority? Has it been brought down to the level of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

  • Maccabeus

    Yes, absolutely! change is good! progress is good! evolution is great! everything is positive! and all is well in this facile Pelagian, Panglossian  modernist secular world view that too many mistake for Christianity – proof positive that the modernist secular world has succeeded in evangelising the Church, secularising its very thought processes and perspectives, rather than the Church evangelising the World. 

  • Maccabeus

    “If Pope Benedict was legitimately inspired by the Holy Spirit to step down…” – Therein lies the question.

  • ChantryPriest

    It is the case, at least in English Law, that when a man has been invested with the plenitude of Sovereign power, all lesser honours are suppressed. Thus when Edward VIII abdicated, he was briefly Mr Edward Windsor before George VI created him HRH Duke of Windsor.
    Under this principle then, when Benedict XVI abdicates [it is truly a harrowing thought] he will still be a Bishop but the new Pope will have to create him Cardinal anew if he is to be one.

  • Peedeeramone

    Wriggle out of that one Mr Oddie! Herr Ratzinger doodling on the old Joanna sounds like a peaceful retirement to us non-Catholics…

  • AlanP

    Does the secular press think it wonderful? Interesting, yes, just as I do, not least because the next Pope is likely to be the last I shall ever see.  And I really cannot understand why Benedict’s abdication has come as such a “shock” to some; he has been hinting at it for a long time.

  • parepidemos

    I believe Benedict when said that he had prayed about it for some time and that he had brought his conscience before God; that’s good enough for me.

  • parepidemos

    Perhaps he will be know as the Bishop emeritus of Rome, but I doubt that he cares a fig about titles. Benedict is a man of real humility.

  • andHarry

     Will he continue to ‘Tweet’; or will there be a ‘last Tweet’?

  • scary goat

     Woooooow, nice one Dave and Pee! That’s always the best time to kick someone…..when they’re down. 

  • W Oddie

    I was wrong about the pope’s actual intentions; I thought it was  unthinkable, and that he would never do it. It would be, I said, be “traumatic”. And so it has been. And there can be no question that in retiring, the Holy Father has redefined the papacy. The question is: has there been a loss? I suggested  various obstacles to retirement which still seem valid: perhaps they will be overcome. I am not trying to avoid your questions: I will have to return to this subject: and I will. But not yet.

  • AlanP

    In your satirical(?) comment you seem to have completely misunderstood Jacobite’s post.  Jacobite is not saying “progress is good, evolution is great, etc.”, just that change is inevitable just as the Papacy has changed throughout the centuries.  It is very different now from what it was 1000 years ago, and in fact Ratzinger the theologian once wrote that, if reunion with the Orthodox is to be achieved, the additional powers of the Papacy since 1054 should be renounced.  I agree with that.  And because, as I stated in a previous post, the next Pope is likely to be the last I shall see, I hope to God it is not someone in the SSPX mould.  (I would be astonished if it was.)

  • JabbaPapa

    These matters are governed by the Canon Law.

    I cannot see in this Law that the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope has stripped him of his Cardinalcy.

    I suppose that he will be Cardinal Bishop Emeritus of the diocese of Rome ; which I suppose will technically make him a Cardinal Priest plus some few honorific bits and pieces whenever he should celebrate the Mass and &c…

    (correct me, anyone with better knowledge of this rather abstruse question … :-) )

  • JabbaPapa

    And there can be no question that in retiring, the Holy Father has redefined the papacy.

    I don’t think so — Pope Benedict XVI is the fourth oldest Pope in History, and his advanced age and his ill health are obviously perfectly acceptable reasons, plus there have been 6-8 papal abdications in the past ; and also :

    Pope Pius XII apparently made a conditional abdication in the event of his being incarcerated by the Nazis (which never happened, so the abdication never took place — the conditional letter also ordered a temporary relocation of the Holy See to Portugal !!!)

    Pope John Paul II also wrote a conditional abdication letter in 1989, that was never enacted either.

  • JabbaPapa

    I think so, indeed, yes. :-)

  • ChantryPriest

    Hello JabbaPapa-You might find this of interest from Fr. Z’s blog:

  • Fr D. Maguire

    And Pius XII was following the advice of Pius VII, who was treated even worse by Napoleon than Pius XII was treated by Hitler.  I don’t recall if it included a relocation of the Holy See, though I have a half-remembered factoid about a possible relocation to Brazil(!) to join the Portugese monarchy-in-exile, though I could be totally mistaken.

  • licjjs

    We don’t need to fear an anti-pope – we have had one for years:Hans Kung.  I do not know if he and others like him know how ridiculous they sound, spouting off.  The Pope migh not be infallible but Hans Kung certainly thinks Hans Kung is.

  • JabbaPapa


    I’d already read it before making my post !!!

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    ” ……..the modernist secular world has succeeded in evangelising the Church,
    secularising its very thought processes and perspectives, rather than
    the Church evangelising the World. ” Quote from: MaccabeusThe above is VERY TRUE. Did not Jesus say, “will there be faith left on earth, when the Son of Man comes back?” The Lord saw through the foolish and sinful lives and action of unfaithful Leaders.THE LORD SPOKE TO MARTHA, “THERE IS ONLY ONE THING NECESSARY…”;When any Jesus inspired Pope starts giving first place to this “one thing necessary” I and you will see the difference. It will be Jesus himself acting through his APOSTLES. PROMOTING what Jesus did: APOSTLESHIP is the key for the SALVATION OF THE WORLD. All other things will follow on their own. Did not Jesus say to us, “First seek the Kingdom of God and its justice and everything will be added unto us”?In the primitive Church EVERY CHRISTIAN (There were no Caths. and Prots. – later human and political creations) WAS AN APOSTLE AND SO THE  SPIRIT OF JESUS HIMSELF WAS IN-CHARGE; HE WAS DOING THE WORK ….. OF COURSE THROUGH THE APOSTLES. If we want SALVATION of the Lord to reach all, then we need to revert to our pure, original way of functioning THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF JESUS. For this we all need to be APOSTLES and keep praying and waiting for this most wonderful gift: Look at ST. PAUL and others.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    BUT LET HIM HAVE THE MIND CHRIST OUR LORD and for this let us all keep praying.

  • Euthebass

    Let us surround Benedict XVI is love and prayers.  Such a mind, heart and spirit, such beauty and insight in his theology.  Wish him blessings of joy and peace (I admit, the Spanish bishops, expressing their sadness, with great dignity, at his resignation, spoke for my heart).  The love of Christ and his blessed Mother is everything now, and we should commend Benedict XVI and his remarkable ministry in our prayers.

  • Arthur Rusdell-Wilson

    That would have been my prejudice too.

  • Sistermariar

    This week will be something akin to heartbreaking – now the Church will have a new Papa (I agree – as I entered the Church Benedict XVI’s first Easter, he will always be Papa in some way to me) but also a grandpapa – a comforting thought. I pray the new Pope will be kind and reverential to him and be strong enough to include him as he is able and appropriate in the great and small events in the life of the Chuch. It matters not what the naysayers say re’ the retired Pope offering advice and support - it can only be good if requested.  I will be distressed most if we do not at least get news of his well-being and life on occasion – based on what I see of the press over there, it is unlikely he will totally disappear!  He is in my prayers always and has my love as a true spiritual Father.