Of Gods and Men
Resenting Lent

The Resignation

Well, this is a shock. My immediate reaction is somewhat selfish. It happens that just yesterday I heard our Ordinariate pastor's report on the symposium on the Ordinariate which took place in Houston on the first weekend of February. The symposium was addressed by no less than the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Gerhard Müller, and at his request. It was his first address in what I believe is his first trip to the United States in his current office: in other words, this was rather an honor to the Ordinariate, and out of proportion to our slight numbers. 

Bishop Müller repeated what he had been told by his predecessor, Cardinal Levada: "this is the Pope's project," which is obviously true on at least one level since it was Benedict who created the Ordinariate, and seems to go beyond that to indicate that the Ordinariate is something that he considers particularly important and particularly wishes to see succeed. 

So my first reaction is Oh no--what does this mean for the Ordinariate? But it's not as if the end of Benedict's pontificate was likely to be very far off in any case, considering his age. So perhaps it's good for us that he's doing this, and may have some influence in choosing his successor. And that basic line of reasoning applies to everything else. 

I only hope this is not the end of the renewal that has been in progress since the election of John Paull II. 

What are your reactions?


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Will benedict XVI revert to being a cardinal, and therefore get to vote in the conclave?

My first reaction was slightly less creditable. I remember John Paul II crawling painfully through his final years, and people pointing out (then and now) that this was in some ways a good thing: a rebuke to the "culture of death", being weak and frail in the sight of the world as a testimony to a different order of values which doesn't despise weakness. I was sufficiently convinced, and did sufficiently little actual thinking about the matter, that my initial reaction today was that Benedict's resignation was a serious moral failing and he was letting everyone down by not taking the same route.

Then I felt somewhat unsettled and depressed, which I had not expected, and a little worried about what the next pope will turn out like. The best thing is to pray for whoever comes next and put the matter in the hands of God, I realise. It may be better to ignore the ensuing media circus, as well, although I don't know how possible that will be.

He will be a cardinal. He's too old to vote.

Godescalc, God calls different people to do different things in the same circumstances. It's none of our business to make that kind of judgment because we cannot possibly know all the factors. I can think of some circumstances in which a pope should absolutely resign because of the damage he might do if he did not.


Some of that reservation crossed my mind, too, godescalc. I can imagine this being used someday as part of an effort to get rid of a pope (but then if I'm going to imagine that I also have to imagine that it might be a good thing in a particular case) but I'm not letting it bother me. From the outside we can argue it either way--I mean, it's not self-evident that either course would always be the right one. Even apart from any consideration of the hand of God in the matter, there are a lot of things we don't know that could make the situations different.

"train wreck" rather than "circus" is what comes to my mind when I think of the media dumbness we're about to see. Evasive action definitely a good idea.

The act itself is not that earthshaking, though definitely unusual. Benedict XVI will be the seventh pope in Church history to voluntarily abdicate.

My reaction? I was baptized and confirmed Easter 2011; Benedict is the only pope I have ever really known. To be honest I am quite frightened by the prospect of the Church 'going back' to the way it was under John Paul II or Paul VI.

I am trying to not be fearful. I already usually ignore the establishment media on anything Catholic, so it's not the upcoming circus in the press which bothers me. But this is going to be a difficult Lent.

I've thought that over the last six months or so that he's looked extremely tired in his photos, and it seemed to happen rather suddenly, too.

Unlike John Paul II, I don't think Benedict was ever a robust man. John Paul certainly was in youth and middle age -- kayaking vacations, etc., but Benedict was always, I think, inclined to quieter pursuits. And wasn't he just about to retire to quiet village life with his brother when he was elected pope in 2005? These last eight years have probably been very hard on him.

I guess what I'm saying is that we need to allow for each man's basic nature. John Paul, though crippled by Parkinson's, was a rugged guy at his core and so able to carry on through it all. Benedict sincerely believes he can't carry on, and is doing what he considers the responsible thing.

"the way it was under John Paul II"?!? That could use a little elucidation. Surely you don't mean to say that there was a big gap between JPII and BXVI, in their theological and ecclesiastical visions? Maybe you mean the extent to which modernism (for lack of a better word) still had the upper hand for a long time under JPII?

Agreed, Marianne.

That's a fair request for elucidation, Mac. The two most salient things that come to my mind are the difference in bishops appointed by the two popes, and the difference in Vatican attitude towards liturgy. I admittedly wasn't there for the reign of John Paul II, but it seems like a gap was definitely there on these two questions at least.

I'm glad Get Religion is around to voice these complaints.

Well, I am not enough of a Vatican-watcher to discuss those points in detail, but I don't think there is a big discontinuity. Differences, yes, but remember Benedict was Prefect of the CDF for most (all?) of JP's papacy and they were generally regarded by both admirers and detractors as being of the same mind in the most important ways. Perhaps those who follow things more closely than I do can shed some more light on this.

Janet: yeah, that's a better way of looking at things. I was treating something almost as a cast-iron moral law when it was really a prudential judgement. It passed, largely once I started reading other people's responses, which, like yours, were generally saner.

I do actually respect B16 a lot, though I didn't quite realise it till he resigned. Like Balthasar, it's the first end of papacy since I joined the Church, and I felt a certain amount of loss and sorrow, and also ill-defined trepidation. (Though I don't fear a return to the 70's and 80's; the people are different, and the challenges from the world are different.)

(And Balthasar, if you've not seen it, you may want to have a look at this bit from Chesterton's Everlasting Man on the way the Faith repeatedly goes to the dogs, and repeatedly somehow gets up again - We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down that went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now...) (Not that I accept or endorse everything GKC says there, but it's an encouragement for me if I get to worrying. God is constantly renewing His church, often in entirely unexpected ways. We have to watch and pray; but we don't need to worry.)

Right. Jesus said that He was with us always even to the end of the age and that He wouldn't let the Gates of Hell prevail against the Church. If He can't keep that promise, then we should just pack it in and go find something else to do. My first reaction was sadness. Well, not just my first, but that's my main reaction. It was a bit scary at first, but that's natural when you lose your Father.


Amy Welborn links to Benedict giving his resignation message in Latin, and passes on what a friend of hers said in an email: "Our sweet Benedict."

That captures how I feel.

Thanks Godesalc. I'll have a read.

Mac, it's true what you say about the CDF etc. All I can say is that the two things I mentioned are significant differences to a lay Catholic in the sticks like myself. A reversal of Summorum Pontificum, or a fresh injection of "new springtime" bishops into the modernist establishment would be a pretty big deal.

On doctrine there was no discernible difference between John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In terms of papal liturgy (which has something of an exemplary role in the wider Church) there was a very big difference indeed.

I read it on FB at 6 am - an Italian friend posted - he posted from the report of that journalist to whom I later linked, who grasped what the pope was saying because he knew Latin. So, I saw a headline in Italian, from the Italian newspaper the journalist works for. And I couldn't believe it. So I put 'lascia' into google translate. It does indeed means 'leaves' as in 'leaves the papacy.' I remembered how when JPII was dying, the Italian news reports were too quick off the gun about ten times. And Italian newspapers are always full of conspiracy theories. I very very narrowly prevented myself from posting a sarcastic remark about Italian newspapers under my friend's link. I searched the Telegraph and google news. Nothing. Then after about 10 minutes, a different friend posted from the Vatican Website.

Sorry, it's all a bit like where were you when you heard about 9/11 or the Kennedy shooting. My disbelief will stay with me a long time.

At mass at noon, a young Jesuit who is very devoted to B16 *didn't mention the resignation, and didn't ask us to throw in any prayers at the bidding prayers. Weird. We asked him to have lunch with us, and asked him what he thought, and he said something like 'I self censor on the pope's actions.' Because Jesuits take a vow of obedience to the Pope. I think he was in the same disbelief as me and many of the people on this blog.

I'm not a new Catholic - I been around since 1984. And it was far worse back then, let me tell you. Those were the bad old days.

"And it was far worse back then, let me tell you. Those were the bad old days."

Yes, exactly. It was 1981 for me. The modernists were very much in the driver's seat then. Of course I had to look up Summorum Pontificum, Balthasar. And while John Paul can be charged with not doing enough to keep the old liturgy alive, he began the process of turning back those who were actively engaged in its ruthless extirpation. The fury of the progressive old guard (as it had already become by then) toward anything that smacked of the Church as it had been in history may not be readily imaginable to those who don't remember it. Well, I guess that's not true--I'm sure you can find prog-Catholic enclaves everywhere (I know a couple)--but they are not predominant throughout the institution in the suffocating way they were then.

It's like after the Normandy landings. It may take some time, but essentially all they got to look forward to is the Nuremburg trials.

My radical traditionalist friends *now* like JPII because they say he prepared the way for Summum P. During his pontoficate they were not that keen, but now they say he played a role in getting their liturgy back on the books.

My first thought was, "I guess his health must be a lot worse than we had realized." I wonder also whether, having seen at first hand the effects of JPII's debilitation on the administration of the Church, Benedict wants to avoid that level of inefficiency.

I'm a 47-year-old cradle Catholic, so this is the fourth time I've lost a pope, and it's definitely the saddest. I love Benedict more than the other popes I've known; his visit to my college campus back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger was instrumental both in making me a more serious Catholic and in bringing my husband and me together.

Normandy--heh--excellent analogy.

That's a very plausible explanation, Anne-Marie.

Personally I've felt closer to Benedict than to John Paul II. I don't mean any devaluation of JP, but Benedict's writings seem to touch me more powerfully.

When John Paul was pope, I loved him so much that I hated to think about the day when there would be another pope, but I love Benedict at least as much, and, as you say, I find his writings much more accessible and powerful.


I agree with AM - Ratzer saw how JPII was too old to deal with the abuse crisis and with Maciel. He's had some very weird stuff going on, like with the butler, and he must think it would be scandalous and damaging to the church if he carries on into his dotage.

Well, that was my first thought and about the only thought that I have about his reasons.


It would be really terrible if things got to a point where a pope had to be removed (rather than removing himself) for his inability to fulfill his duties. Just imagine all the theological-political shenanigans.

David Warren also thinks Benedict's age and growing inability to navigate the intricacies of the Church bureaucracy may have been a heavy influence in his decision to resign:

"The Vatican bureaucracy has been, in recent times, & perhaps inevitably, infiltrated by the very 'progressive' forces it exists to fight. The Pope must be entirely on his toes in such an environment. A man of extraordinary humility but also astute, Benedict would be aware of the danger that members of this bureaucracy would exploit his mental & physical decline.

This has become, to my mind, the key practical issue for the Church to face in her immediate future. The Pope & his Bishops have real canonical power, but with the proliferation of bureaucracy within the Church herself, they are required to exert it forcefully. In the Church as in mundane government, the bureaucracies take their own lead. They become too large for detailed supervision; & through the normal operation of organizational politics — a fact of nature — they acquire their own internal directors & directions."

I know next to nothing about the workings of the Church bureaucracy. Is Warren exaggerating or spot on?

The Maciel scandal really is a pretty big blot on JPII's record. I don't know the story at all so I'm not making any judgment about his culpability, but it seems at a minimum he was fooled by a monster. The thought of Maciel's followers brings the word "millstone" immediately to mind. I'm sure a lot of them have lost their faith completely.

I have no idea, Marianne. I mean, the broad observation about the bureaucracy is plausible, but whether it was a factor in the pope's decision or not seems impossible to know. I wonder if there were actions taken by Church agencies in the late years of John Paul's papacy that he might have thwarted if he'd known or been able.

I think he has probably made a good decision, but I feel very sad, especially when I see his photo. I have really loved this pope, perhaps even more than JP2.

I love this blog. It's such a comfort to be able to come here.

I hope it works out well for the Ordinariate. I suspect it will. It's the sort of thing that once set in motion probably won't be stopped.


That's really nice to hear, Louise. Thank you.

I've been surprised at the number of people saying they felt warmer or closer or something along those lines about Benedict than about John Paul. JP was so warm and personable, and Ratzinger in comparison seemed cool and reserved. I mean, even in the perception of those who liked him. To those who didn't he was nazi blah blah blah.

I hope you're right about the Ordinariate, Janet. I wouldn't expect it to be reversed or anything but it could probably be discouraged and hemmed in and neglected.

My experience is that young people have a much more warm affection for B16 than they did for JPII, whom they looked up to as a Father-Hero.

Oh yeah, I think I saw some discussion to that effect on your Facebook feed earlier today. Very surprising to me.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I was about 9 when JP2 became pope, so he was always like my Big Strong Dad. This was reinforced by his physical stature.

Then when B16 was elected, I saw much more how any man would find it difficult to fill the role in these times. Such a big job. I didn't doubt that he could do it well, but I had a more adult understanding of human weakness and the difficulty facing him. This lead me to take an active interest in his progress, especially early on. I felt even a bit protective of him, as I do now for my elderly dad.

In time I grew to feel great affection for Benedict.

I think I was glued to the internet in the early days of his papacy to find out more about him.

Mac, here is what my daughter (27) said on my facebook when I said I thought young people thought of B16 more as a papa than they did JPII. "I would never say that I experienced the fatherhood of Pope Benedict more deeply than the fatherhood of Blessed JPII - his death affected me like few things have, and I specifically had the experience of losing a father. But he was certainly the father-hero: when he spoke you felt united with the universal Church, like you were suddenly swept up into the grandeur of salvation history, with banners and trumpets. With Pope Benedict, it is as though he just quietly sits down next to you, almost without you noticing, and starts talking to you one-on-one, and you suddenly become of aware of God's love and challenge for you not just as part of the Church but as an individual. That's why he is Papa Benedict. Both have shown us different aspects of God's fatherhood, I think. Those of us who lived during both papacies sure have been incredibly, undeservedly blessed."

"glued to the Internet" sounds pretty funny.

I had been a Ratzinger fan since sometime in, I guess, the 1980s, when a book of interviews with him called The Ratzinger Report came out. What he said combined erudition, reason, sensitivity, and orthodoxy in the same way that JPII did. It was clear from that that the "Vatican Rottweiler" tag was just ridiculous.

That's a beautiful and very perceptive comment from your daughter, Robert. I could find it in my heart to say I'm a touch envious. And her last sentence is right on; I was thinking something along those lines earlier, and wondering whether that blessed period is coming to an end.

Yeah. I wish I could write with her charm and perception. As Steve Martin said, "Some people have a way with words; some people...not have way."

I have found it difficult to collect my thoughts about this. I have a good deal of affection for Pope Benedict -- as several others have already said, I feel somehow closer to him than I did to John Paul II (who is the only other pope whom I have "known") -- and I think my dominant feeling is simple sadness. I wish that he would stay on.

I will admit to a touch of disappointment of the sort already mentioned by godescalc. If the pope is our father, how can he stop being our father? I know it's legal and all that, but somehow it doesn't sit well with me.

Actually, Ross Douthat's thoughts on how an abdication sits uncomfortably with a Catholic sense of what the papacy is resonate with me.

Having said that, I can see, or at least imagine, why he felt he must make this bold move, and I've no doubt he thinks it is best for the Church. I am just so sorry to see him go.

I have no idea who is likely to be chosen to succeed him, but I think it is plausible that his mere presence, strolling around at Castel Gandalfo, while the conclave is in session might well exert an intangible influence on the proceedings.

"You can't resign from being father" seems to be a fairly widely-held sentiment.

Let me also say that, like Louise, I am grateful for this blog and this group of people. I made the mistake of looking at the comment boxes on a few newspaper stories about the Holy Father, and it was really disturbing to see what people will say.

Thank you. I'm grateful for all of you as well.

I just managed to read the Douthat piece. Excellent.

I agree with AM - Ratzer saw how JPII was too old to deal with the abuse crisis and with Maciel.

Maciel was the superior of a very consequential religious order and the complaints against him made it to the Vatican and subject to careful investigation there.

The 'abuse crisis' was a phenomenon in the anglosphere, and concerned how, in the period running from 1983 to 2001, diocesan bishops had responded to complaints about misconduct by priests occurring over the period running from about 1925 to 1990, usually filed 15 years or more after the incidents in question.

The pope has 3,000 bishops reporting to him; 92% of the lay Catholics in this world are not in the anglosphere. Rod Dreher may think the Pope's attention should have been fixed in rapt attention on Dallas as opposed to Manila or Valparaiso, Rod Dreher may think it a simple matter to ascertain the veracity of an uncorroborated complaint a decade after the fact, and Rod Dreher may fancy the Pope should sanction some bishop over a bad decision made by his predecessor 10 years ago over an incident which occurred 25 years ago. The rest of us can be more sensible.

You could 'deal' with it by identifying actually misfeasant bishops (as opposed to bishops just left holding the bag) and stripping them of their sees. They were around (Grahmann and McCormack to name two). Neither John Paul nor Benedict did much of that, whatever their ages.

I don't disagree with that, but I'm not sure what point you're making. The one in your last sentence?

Yes, that is my point. I seriously doubt that how John Paul handled disciplinary problems and corruption in dioceses in the anglophone world had much effect on Benedict's thinking.

The Catholic Encyclopedia offers a report (or an educated guess) as to the date of birth of about a hundred (of 266) popes. About 8 (including the incumbent) reached the age of 85, so it is atypical but not all that uncommon. Five of the eight remained on the throne no more than a year after their 85th birthday, one departed just shy of 88, one at age 92, and one at age 93. So, his age places him at the 96th percentile.

To add to that, a man of 85 has a life expectancy of about six years. That six years, however, is often consumed by dementia and miscellaneous debilitation. Reportedly, his brother is in wretched shape. Wagers: he is old and he is playing the averages. (Discovering he could not trust his butler I would also wager has been weighing on him).

I'll leave that argument to those who follow these things more closely than I do, except to note that it isn't only the enemies, or at least non-friends, of the papacy and of these particular popes who think they could/should have done more.

I don't read Rod Dreher very often so I don't know if you're referring to something specific he's written or just his general outrage, but I don't consider him reliable on this topic.

I haven't read either of the linked pieces, but it seems to me that although you can't resign from being a father, you can transfer your paternal authority to another, or you can lose it due to being unable to exercise it.

The Douthat piece is especially worth reading. He talks about a possible long-term effect that's a bit more subtle than "resigning from being father."

I feel very sad about dear Benedict, even if it may perhaps be a good decision, but as someone whose father did actually leave the family (admittedly I was legally an adult, though my brother was not), I find the "leaving father" concept just a touch melodramatic. Sad as I am, it's just not quite the analogy to resonate with me. But I empathise with any feelings of sorrow or abandoment.

Yeah, I guess that does seem a bit much from your point of view. Just to be clear, the "left by father" reaction is not mine. I'm just finding it interesting to see the variety of reactions. Ross Douthat's view is closest to mine, now that I've had a few days to think about it.

Oh yes, Maclin, I was thinking more of another blogger. Although her own family life was far more difficult than mine, so I don't begrudge her use of this analogy. And of course, her early suffering may make her particularly vulnerable to feeling abandoned.

To re-echo some of the comments above about the blog (rather than about the resignation) this is the only place on the internet that I systematically read the comments. Anywhere else it is simply an exercise in being appalled. I'm not sure how Mac manages to have comments without having train wrecks, but this blog is definitely out of the ordinary.

Thank you. I'm extremely pleased to hear that. I count myself very fortunate to have such intelligent and civil people commenting here.

I generally find the comments on the average blog a mixed bag. To be truly and thoroughly appalled, I dip into the comments on some big news site with a mass audience. Not for very long, though.

Finally got to read it. Wise.

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