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Monday, 11 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: Matters Arising

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: Matters Arising - By Uwakwe Chibuike MFC

Pope Benedict addressing the Cardinals on his resignation
Following the Pope’s announcement on Monday February 11 2013 that he will retire from the Papacy come February 28 2013, divergent views on the Pope’s resignation have rocked the media. According to the English translation of his speech, the 85 years old Pope said “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”. He continued that “In order to govern the ship of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me”.

Therefore, the aging Pontiff who has governed the Church for almost eight years declared thus: “For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is”.

Some people do not see the Pope’s resignation as a surprise because he had hinted in a book of interviews in 2010 that he might resign if he felt he was no longer able to carry out his duties. But according to the Pope’s official spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s decision to resign has left Church officials “incredulous” even though it was in full compliance with Church law. He however revealed that after his resignation, the former Pope Benedict XVI will move to a summer residence near Rome. After that, he will live in a former monastery within the Vatican territory.

Meanwhile, according to a source from the Vatican, a conclave of cardinals would be held to elect a new Pope as early as mid-March, as the traditional mourning period that would follow the death of a Pope does not have to be observed in this case. According to this source, it is expected that the period between Pope Benedict's resignation and the election of a successor to be "as brief as possible", and that a successor could be elected before Easter celebrations.

Fr. Clement Obasi in his commentary on Canon 335 on the Vacancy of the Roman See noted that The See is vacant when the Pope is dead or resigns or is impeded and that during such moments the chief administrator of the papal household is the Chamberlain. The Vicar of the diocese of Rome becomes the diocesan administrator while issues requiring the approval of the Roman Pontiff wait till after the election of a new Pope.

The Pope’s announcement of his forthcoming resignation has generated a lot of comments from the public just as it has provoked several thoughts and questions. The most common among them are: Can a pope resign and under what conditions is this possible? Has there ever been a Pope who resigned in the history of the Church

The possibility of the resignation of a Pope is implied in Canon 332 § 2 "Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone". In other words, it is possible and not unlawful for a Pope to resign following the two provisions of this canon that his resignation was not imposed on him and that he communicates his intention to resign openly without recourse to the approval of any authority. According to Fr. Clement Obasi’s commentary on this Canon, “there is no authority to accept or confirm his election, likewise there is no authority to accept his resignation. It suffices that he resigns freely”.

However, it is pertinent to be conscious of the distinction between retirement and resignation. Retirement has to do with quitting an office at or near the age of doing so while resignation is quitting an office voluntarily. Retirement has to do with an objective compulsion due to age while resignation is out of free choice. Therefore, since some reporters say the Pope resigns while some others say the Pope retires, I think resignation should be the proper word here since there is no law specifying an age limit that has necessitated his stepping down from office.

Though the resignation of a Pope is something strange in our time, the history of the Church has recorded resignation of Popes. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 at the request of the Council of Florence in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants. Prior to this time, in 1046, Pope Benedict IX resigned the papacy due to certain crises in the Church then. However, the best-known resignation of a Pope is that of Pope Celestine V who resigned in 1294 after five months in the pontificate saying he yearned for a simpler life and was not physically capable for the office. He issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a Pope to resign, then did so himself and ended up in the monastery as a hermit before he died. There are also other instances from the early centuries of the Church.

According to Wikipedia’s data on Papal Resignation, there have also been several attempts by some Popes to resign even though the plans were never executed. Before setting out for Paris to Crown Napoleon in 1804, Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) signed a document of resignation to take effect if he were imprisoned in France. It was also claimed that Pope Pius XII drew up a document with instructions that, if he were kidnapped by the Nazis, he was to be considered to have resigned his office. Even Pope John Paul II wrote two letters of resignation on two occasions to take effect on the condition that he became impeded in his ministry due to ill health.

On a more serious note, Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign is not only an issue to be discussed but a lesson to learn. The Supreme Pontiff as the leader of a Church that has advocated for sincerity and integrity in leadership is by this means teaching leaders the need to recognize their limitations in leadership and make the right choice when necessary. We live in a world where some leaders both in the Church and the State do not want to accept their inability to continue with the leadership even when the law obliges them to resign. People want to remain and die in power once they ascend the throne. The Pope’s decision is also a confirmation of his humility for having to offer up the highest ecclesiastical office and go behind the scene. It is a lesson we must learn and a challenge we must face when duty calls.

Publication authorized by Rev. Fr. Dr. Clement Obasi, D.C.L

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