Today during the meeting for the Consistory for Canonizations Benedict XVI announced his intention to vacate the Bishopric of Rome at 8:00PM on February 28th. The text of his address is below, first in Latin (as he gave it) then in English:
Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vitae communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.
Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam. Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 29, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.
Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis. Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat. Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim.
Leo XIII reigned into his nineties as Pope. Benedict was advised by a doctor to cease making transatlantic voyages and to reduce his schedule. One could say a Pope who cannot travel could at least govern the Holy See, run the Papal Household, oversee the functions of the Curia, and perform public liturgies. If Benedict is resigning then he must see himself as no longer able to even perform these functions. Fr Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said he would move to Castel Gandolfo to set his affairs in order, then retire to a cloister within the Holy See's walls and live out the rest of his natural live, basically as a monk. To the right is a video of Fr Lombardi giving the press conference after the announcement. He is visibly nervous, shuffling papers that are already in neat stacks and fidgeting with his hands.
|Gregory XII, the last Pope to resign|
This creates a very strange dynamic: there will be two inhabitants of the Petrine chair alive at once. The last Pope to truly resign was the 13th century mystic St Peter Celestine, a hermit who was elected by a deadlocked conclave out of the blue, reigned for a few months, became aware he was not "up for the job," and resigned only to be arrested and indirectly killed by his successor, Boniface VIII. There were three claimants to the Papacy (Pope Gregory XII, and his opponents John XXIII and Benedict XIII). All three were deposed of any claims to the Papacy at the Council of Constance in 1415, leading to the election of Martin V. Some rotten skunks were kicked out by the cardinals or the people of Rome in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, usually on account of their personal wickedness. Nothing quite like this has ever happened though.
Usually the previous Pope's death sets things in motion. His rooms are sealed, his seal is destroyed. The Dean of the College of Cardinals says the Requiem Mass and buries the Pope. The cardinals convene in the Sistine Chapel and elect the new Pontiff in secret. The College of Cardinals as a body makes all governing decisions during the sede vacante. The new Pope assumes office and all the governing authorities. I guess the lack or succession here is what troubles me. It will be more or less a transition, given this current Pope still lives, though his health seems to be failing him.
Many commentators long suggested he might resign someday after watching his predecessor slowly and painfully die in the public eye. John Paul used his struggle as a teaching moment, increasing the Church's credibility on life issues to the secular world. Benedict might think himself physically unable to do even this.