The annoucement by Pope Benedict XVI that he would step down Feb. 28 came as a surprise to many. Even people with insider connections at the Vatican were blindsided by the news.
Nothing was posted on Catholic news media sites. The Rev. Louis Vallone, a pastor in McKees Rocks who is a close friend of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, had spoken to him last week when the cardinal was in Rome and heard no hint of any major impending change.
But Father Vallone believed that Pope Benedict had been planning this for some time because of personnel changes he had made at the Vatican and his efforts to make sure there was a full college of cardinals by holding two consistories in one year.
"Here you have someone who has done the exact opposite of what his predecessor has done. As his health failed, Pope John Paul II chose to stay on as a symbol of courage to those who are elderly and sick. There were a lot of changes that occurred in his last years that he may not have been on top of," Father Vallone said.
"Pope Benedict is saying that the witness or value of staying until you die in this day and age can cause many problems for the church. He is willing to hand over the guidance of the church saying he doesn't have the strength or mind and body that are necessary. Pope John Paul evidenced one type of courage, Pope Benedict is evidencing another."
Pope Benedict was one of the most elderly popes ever elected at the age of 78. That is three years past the mandatory retirement age for priests, though cardinals typically serve until they are 80 and no longer eligible to vote in a papal election.
According to the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit political scientist at Georgetown University who studies the hierarchy, as many as 10 popes may have resigned but the historical evidence is limited. The most recent was in the 15th century when Pope Gregory VII resigned to bring an end to a schism in the western church. The most famous resignation was that of Pope Celestine V in 1294 "because Dante placed him in hell for it," Reese said.
Modern popes have rejected the idea. Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, said that paternity could not be resigned and feared setting a precedent that would lead factions in the church to press future popes to resign. However Pope John Paul II established regulations for a papal resignation and in 1989 and 1994 he prepared letters offering his resignation in the case of a disability that would prevent him from carrying out his ministry, Reese said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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