The Holy Father's "Big Surprise!" triggered the usual avalanche of clueless commentaries that follow any papacy; hagiographic gushing and vitriolic bashing by turns. It all kicked off as I was finalising this edition with a (hopeful!) view to an early posting. But there is no need to delay things with a major analysis of a papal tenure that has led to this. Any number of CO editorials and articles serve as barometers by which to gauge Benedict XVI's short but eventful pontificate: from the courageous highs of Summorum Pontificum and discussions with the Society of St. Pius X, through uplifting interludes like the British visit, to scandalous self-inflicted lows like the condom fiasco, Assisi III, and gratuitous muddying of magisterial teaching on the Jews. In the end, however, along with Benedict's inability/unwillingness to sort out his dysfunctional curia (resulting in his butler's crushing betrayal, more grief from the Vatican Bank, and other pressures we can only imagine), it is surely the "filth" he inherited — corruption and corrosion cemented by the neo-Modernist/neo-Conservative convergence analysed in our recent series — that has undone him.
And the conclave? The future? As last month's editorial explained, it's all "A Question of Authority." Described by Benedict at the outset of his reign as like "a boat taking in water on all sides," if the barque of Peter is ever to be bailed out and unadulterated Catholic faith, identity and missionary purpose restored, it needs an extraordinarily wise and skilful helmsman. One who knows how and when to brandish the papal keys (including the Charitable Anathema) in order to reassert universal discipline, fidelity and unity. Implementing Summorum; unloading the Vatican II millstone; hosing down ecumania; bringing the curia to heel; disabling the homo network ... the urgent tasks are endless. Only a miraculous facta non verba-Pope Saint — a heroic Governor/Enforcer — can make real headway in rolling back the endemic rot. Anything less will signal more drift and decay. Oremus... Meanwhile, let us leave tedious papabile speculation to others and, for now, simply consider the following email exchange between two of our Australian readers, indicative of the split reaction to the resignation — effective close of apostolic business, 8pm, Thursday, 28 February 2013 (... last ex-pope out, please turn off the lights...)
— The Editor
Abdication or Dereliction?
From: Symeon Thompson
Regarding the pontiff’s decision to abdicate, I find it to be a sign of his prudence. He understands that if he is pope, he must be fit to be pope. If he is no longer fit, then he must entrust the Church to the Holy Spirit and pass on the role to another who is fit.
It seems shocking, but the idea that a king may abdicate when he can no longer continue his duties is not unheard of. It is rare, because it has always been more likely for a king to die when he's still fit, than to live till he's unfit, but it has always been a factor. A monarch exists to unite and serve his people, not just to be figure-head.
This need not be read as a concession to modern “business” models, but as a return to far older models of governance, albeit within the framework of modern technology and mass communication, thus complicating things a little bit.
The pope has on his soul the souls of all the faithful. Such a responsibility is not to be underestimated. If you were no longer fit to actively administer the organisation charged with such a responsibility, what would you do? It is a romantic notion that one would stay till the bitter end, but doing so aids not your soul, the organisation, or the souls of the faithful.
We've seen the damage done again and again by individuals who built up organisations, only to cling to power and undermine the very organisation they lead.
In doing this the Pope gives a model to the clergy and bishops that their role is not one of power to the bitter end, but that their role is a privilege, and a privilege for the saving of souls.
If they can no longer discharge that duty, which is not just sacramental but involves significant quantities of administration and diplomacy, then it is incumbent upon them to step aside for their formal role to serve the Church in the best way they can — by prayer.
As an aside, is it not interesting that the Holy Father resigns at the beginning of Lent? Would it not make sense that the rest of his life, which mayn’t be very long, will be spent in penance and prayer for the scandals that have rocked the Church — the vileness of sex abuse, the failure of SSPX reconciliation, powerplays within the Vatican, and so forth?
The Pope serves the Church, but the Holy Spirit guides it, and it is in His hands now.
From: Tony Pead
Whilst much of what you say is true, nevertheless, I worry about the predominantly secular managerialist/careerist mindset at work here in creating a modern precedent for future papal abdications.
I worry that, notwithstanding Pope Benedict's doubtlessly prudent and prayerful decision to abdicate — that his departure for age/health reasons (which are unprecedented reasons amongst the small number of distant, past abdications, which were due to political duress and/or resolving pope/antipope issues) — will lead to 'lifestyle/retirement abdications'; much along the lines of the gratuitously automatic episcopal resignations required at 75 years these past 40 years or so.
All this undermines the notion of "fatherhood" — especially at the grassroots where bishops already appoint all parish priests for limited terms and reshuffle them as a matter of general policy, rather than as the exception — the traditional practice.
When it comes to the office of Pope, there is also the issue of "sacred trust." Which is also related to, but builds upon, the concept of vocation — but in its profoundest sense of responding to Our Lord: Thou art Peter and upon this rock... at the moment a Cardinal utters the words "accepto" upon his election by the conclave. It is simply not the same as Joe Bloggs aged 70 resigning. I recall being shocked and greatly irritated to read the opinings of a late vocation ordinand that the priesthood was a career, and that one did it until one had "no more to offer" and needed yet another change of career!
The Pope's impending abdication — notwithstanding his undoubtedly pure motives — will now send the signal that everything is impermanent. More worryingly still, is the danger of parallel magisteriums (amidst a current environment where we already have the 'magisterium of theologians/nuns/heterodox Catholic journals'). What if Pope Benedict proceeds, in retirement, to publish further ruminating books on ecclesiology or what not? Now, I know that such would not constitute magisterial teachings — after all, he has already claimed that to be the case with his book Jesus of Nazareth — but that is precisely the problem. It confuses the flock mightily, and greatly adds to the ungodly din and clamour already abroad.
Not to mention the potential for unnerving a successor Pontiff... although I guess that could work for good as well as ill. A liberalising Pope might feel constrained in either abrogating or, more likely, restraining and hedging in the operation of Summorum Pontificum, for example!
On the other hand, an incoming Pope, with an "emeritus" Pope lurking around, may well feel constrained in approving/not approving actions of papal governance, based on his predecessor's policies in any number of areas. This sort of constraint has already become chronic via that most classic of post-conciliar bodies, the National Episcopal Conferences, with governance by individual bishops constrained by their looking over their shoulders for the confirmatory wink of the "collegial" conference — whereas they have the power of Shepherd in their dioceses, not the Bishops' conference!
Thus, the concept of leadership is effectively neutered.
I do not say that this scenario will play out in the current circumstances — but that the unprecedented action of abdicating for health and age reasons — whilst still compos mentis, if somewhat enfeebled — has all sorts of wild card possibilities for the future papal governance of the Church, and I feel profoundly uneasy about future implications, regardless of the prayerful sincerity of Pope Benedict's decision.
May the Lord bless him and protect him and let his prayers be efficacious to the reign of the incoming Pontiff.