Pope Benedict XVI’s Renunciation of the Petrine OfficeFeb 11th, 2013 | By Barrett Turner | Category: Blog Posts
Today the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, announced his renunciation of the Petrine office effective at the end of February, 2013. You may listen to Benedict read his announcement in Latin at the bottom of the link above. You may also find here the English translation of Cardinal Sodano’s response as seen in the video.
This rare move of a pope renouncing the Petrine office last occurred in the fifteenth century and before that in the thirteenth century.1 Gregory XII renounced the office of pope in 1417 to facilitate an end to the confusing years of the anti-popes known as the Great Western Schism. In 1294 Pope St. Celestine V, after only a few months in office, wished to return to his former life of hermitage and renounced the bishopric of Rome. Pope Benedict has ruled the Church for a longer period of nearly eight years, having been elected in April 2005. His renunciation comes not to end a controversy but to retire due to ill health.
Canon law makes brief mention of this process. The current Code of Canon Law (1983) states
Can. 332 § 2. Si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet, ad validitatem requiritur ut renuntiatio libere fiat et rite manifestetur, non vero ut a quopiam acceptetur.
Can. 332 §2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns [renuntiet] his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.
The reason why no one accepts the renunciation of the pope is that the pope is the Church’s supreme pastor and the president of the college of bishops. He is entrusted with the supreme care of souls. While he is brother to all the other bishops, he is also the successor of St. Peter, the one charged with confirming the faith of the brethren (Luke 22:32). There is no authority within the Church on earth higher than the pope. The decision must be free and deliberate. This is why Pope Benedict stressed in his announcement that he had made this decision for the good of the Church and only after a prolonged period of discernment of seeking the Lord’s will. Thus he said,
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, 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.
It is no secret that the Holy Father’s health has been deteriorating of late. Aware of this possibility, Pope Benedict has made cryptic mentions in the past of the possibility of renunciation. For example, in a 2010 book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, the Holy Father said,
If a Pope realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of the office, then has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.2
The Holy Father has been a constant inspiration for us as a man who has loved the Church so deeply and thoughtfully. He has spent himself in service to his flock, in his visits to various countries, his presence at World Youth Days, his constant teaching, and his care for the order of the Church. He has been at the helm of the Barque of Peter during some precarious times and has incurred the hatred of many who see in him and the Church all that is inhumane. Yet Pope Benedict made it clear that he would not resign because of difficulties: “One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.”3 In this, he is blessed to share in the revulsion the world felt at the Lord Jesus, in despising his love and his teaching (see Acts 5:41). May Benedict depart this life in much joy, the joy of his Lord!
For many of us at Called to Communion who were still Protestant at the time, the election of Pope Benedict XVI and his subsequent reign held out the question, “Will that be my leader someday?” Perhaps we sensed something of the Holy Father’s solicitude for visible reunion of Christians, a concern which has led to, among other things, a warming of ties with the Orthodox Churches and the creation of the Anglican Ordinariate, through which Anglicans can return to full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining some distinctive liturgical elements of their tradition. Benedict himself announced this concern the day after his election when he said:
The current Successor [to St. Peter] assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.
May the next Successor of St. Peter likewise continue the work of prayer and love and dialogue in the truth for the reunion of all Christians!
We of course are saddened that one of the greatest theological minds to hold the Petrine office is now leaving. He has given the Church so much, not least in his encyclicals and informal works on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, his work against relativistic conceptions of culture and politics, his freeing of the 1962 extraordinary form of the Mass, the Year of Faith currently underway in the Catholic Church, and much more.
We are sad that we will no longer have Benedict as our pope. Yet God guides the Church, and so we pray for Benedict’s successor and put our hope in the chief Shepherd, from whom all popes and bishops receive their authority and example.4 May He come and take His flock to himself after making her ready and after the full measure of the nations have found their salvation in the Barque of St. Peter.
O God, eternal shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care, grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for the Election of a Pope or a Bishop from the Roman Missal)