The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Two Cardinals, the Protestant head of the Czech Ecumenical Council, a Roman Catholic Bishop, & a Protestant layman. But only Cardinal Duka, (second left), will vote in the papal conclave © Old catholic Church in the Czech Republic

Two Cardinals, the Protestant head of the Czech Ecumenical Council, a Roman Catholic Bishop, & a Protestant layman. But only Cardinal Duka, (second left), will vote in the papal conclave © Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic

I was going to write about something completely different, but as today’s news media is most unusually, full of a story about one part of the Christian Church, I think I’ll be topical instead. Yes – most unexpectedly, Pope Benedict XVI has this day announced his intention to resign his office at the end of February – the first Pope to do so for nearly 600 years.

What is one to make of all of this? The official reason given for Pope Benedict’s decision to resign is his increasingly frail health. He is nearly 86 years old and in recent times, has been pushed around St. Peter’s Cathedral in what might best be described as a ‘papal trolley’. Those who support this explanation point out that he oversaw the decline in health of his predecessor Pope John Paul II and the paralysis this brought upon the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Some even say that he actively suggested to John Paul II, that he should resign, and that he is now acting upon his own advice.

There is always the alternative view of the conspiracy theorists. These suggest that Pope Benedict has been the victim of an internal power struggle within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. That he jumped before he was pushed or he was aware of some new sexual or financial scandal breaking and wants to get out before it does. Whilst personally, I am perfectly happy to accept the former official explanation, I do find it interesting that two Irish former members of the RC Church who are now part of my Prague Anglican congregation, have both suggested to me today that there is much more going on behind the scenes than the official explanation. Maybe they are right in recognising what they believe is happening from their own personal experiences of the Roman Catholic Church.

A big religious news story such as this, has once more revealed the religious ignorance of so many journalists. The best one I’ve seen so far is on the BBC News website, who have a quotation from ‘the newly enthroned Archbishop (of Canterbury, Justin) Welby’. Please note BBC, that Bishop Justin Welby is not being enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury until 21st March 2013. You could try checking his website 🙂

What I have also seen and read today, is what I have experienced many times when visiting the next of kin of a recently deceased person for whom I’ve been asked to officiate at their funeral. Everybody is full of what a wonderful person Pope Benedict is and has been. No quoted speakers are being critical of his pontificate, with the obvious exception of a few total secularists. Yet whilst I would not want to question Pope Benedict’s own personal Christian faith or his devotion to the Roman Catholic Church, I have to say that I am not unhappy to see him resign. However, I will say that I fully respect and admire his stated reasons for doing so. He has now set a precedent for his future successors by indicating that they are not required to stay in office until they die!

Like many practising Roman Catholics and others, I believe that the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, has taken the Roman Catholic Church away from the major reforms instigated by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. One of the most telling examples of this is the fact that his resignation announcement today, was made in Latin! Whilst he has made positive ecumenical statements, especially when visiting countries which do not have a Roman Catholic majority population such as the United Kingdom, his actions speak louder than words. The creation of the Ordinariate for disaffected Anglicans, behind the back of Archbishop Rowan Williams, is a particular example.

Inevitably, the news media is already full of suggestions as to who will be elected as the successor to Pope Benedict. As I mentioned earlier, such discussions once more show the ignorance of many journalists. But whoever is elected as the next Pope, is going to have to face up to a number of pressing realities if they really want the Roman Catholic Church to survive into the 21st century. Many of these have been articulated by the Austrian Pfarrar Initiative which I’ve written about previously on this blog. It will be most interesting to see who is elected and how that person sets about addressing issues such as the declining number of priestly vocations in Europe and North America, pastoral care and admission to the sacraments for divorced and remarried believers, etc, etc.

I finish this post with a joke from a German website, posted well before today’s announcement. The current Pope and God are having a discussion.

Pope Benedict asks God, “Will there ever be married priests?” God answers, “Not in your lifetime”.

Pope Benedict then asks God, “Will there ever be female priests?” God answers, “Not in your lifetime”.

Pope Benedict then asks God a final question. “Will there be another German Pope?” God answers, “Not in my lifetime!”

33 comments to The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

  • Paul

    Thank you Ricky for yet another thoughtful and insightful blog. !

    • Ricky

      Thank you Paul for your kind comment. As ever, I’m trying to offer a balanced view of things, together with just a little bit of humour 🙂

  • Thank you Ricky for sharing your views. I too am 100% struck by a resignation speech being made in Latin. It seems like they are doing everything possible to be opaque! I’m very curious how Catholics find that relevant to their lives.

    • Ricky

      Indeed Karen – the seeming lack of relevance was exactly my point. The RC Church changed from using Latin to using the vernacular for the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Whilst as has been pointed out to me elsewhere, official pronouncements from the Vatican are still made in Latin & it is the normal mutual language of the Cardinals, it resonated as another example of the Pope being out-of-touch with the real world.

  • Fergus

    I will be sorry to see him go, but I think he made the right decision and history all be kind to him for the humility and grace shown in stepping down. I did enjoy the joke though!

    Interesting that in a supposedly post religious age (or at least that’s what many who are narrow minded in the West would say!) that the Holy Father can still attract such media attention!!

    • Ricky

      Whilst I’m not sorry to see him stepping down, I’m with you Fergus, in believing that he made the right decision and that history will rightly be kind to him for the humility and grace he has shown in doing so. I’m glad you enjoyed the joke, unlike a secular FB friend whose somewhat self-righteous comments you may have seen 🙁

      Similar thoughts crossed my mind to those in your second paragraph, when I saw all the news coverage yesterday & which is continuing today. As always when a big Christian Church news event happens, the lack of knowledge of many journalists about the Church, is also clearly revealed.

  • Can I ask, why you aren’t sorry to see Papa Ratzi stepping down? Just curious to hear, that’s all. 🙂

    • Ricky

      Of course you can ask Johanna! And I presume you are referring to Pope Benedict XVI in a somewhat informal fashion 😉

      Because during his pontificate he has done nothing to further ecumenical relations, refused to condone the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV & Aids, & is totally unwilling to consider any of the numerous suggestions to arrest problems within his own Church put forward by the Austrian Pfarrer Initiative.

      One of the issues raised by the Austrian Pfarrer Initiative, is how to offer the sacraments and pastoral care, to the ever increasing number of people whose lives do not conform exactly to official Roman Catholic doctrine. And as well as arriving home this evening, to your most welcome comment, there was also an email in my Inbox, setting out a classic example of what the Austrian Pfarrer Initiative is talking about. It came from an English Anglican man, married to a Czech Roman Catholic woman, asking whether I could baptise their newborn son. Why? Because the RC priest in the town where the mother comes from, refuses to baptise the child because the couple have only been married in a Czech civil ceremony. That hardline attitude with its total lack of pastoral concern or sensitivity, is one that is increasingly being enforced by pressure from the RC hierarchy which goes all the way back to Rome.

      Whether the forthcoming papal conclave will come up with someone more open and willing to face up to and address these issues with real Christian sensitivity, is an open question, bearing in mind that most of the voting Cardinals, were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI or his predecessor Pope John Paul II. We wait & see.

  • Thank you for your reply. I totally agree with you, too. The example you told me somehow indicates a battle already lost because the significance of the Roman Catholic Church is close to zilch in most European’s lives. They cannot force people to obey and live according to their strict codes any more.

    • Ricky

      Since replying to your first comment Johanna, I’ve talked to Sybille about the example I gave. From her experience of living & working in Spain for four years on the Camino de Santiago, she thinks the refusal may be more to do with the priest thinking that the child won’t be raised as a good Roman Catholic rather than the civil marriage issue. I’m about to write back to the enquirer & discover more. But you are quite right in what you say about the significance of the RC Church on the lives of many Europeans. Even amongst those who regularly go to mass, most clearly quietly ignore the official teaching of the RC Church in relation to contraception. The average family size is little different to the rest of the population & I don’t think that comes about by purely using the rhythm method 😉

  • Hi, Rev. Yates,

    As a young Catholic laywoman, I am very sorry to see Pope Benedict step down. I have really come to admire him as an intelligent and caring individual who has become a father-figure for Catholics the world over. However, I do respect his wishes and understand that his age makes his position an extremely heavy burden to bear. I’m curious to find out what nationality our next pope will be.

    With all due respect, the Catholic Church will never condone artificial means of preventing pregnancy, nor artificial means of preventing venereal diseases that “work with” actions we consider seriously sinful. Also, women will never be ordained as Catholic priests, not in my lifetime or yours. These are not matters for the popes to decide on personal whims; they are matters of Catholic teaching, and cannot be changed.

    As for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham…..we’d love to have you join some time, and bring your parish with you! As futile as it may sound, don’t think I’m not putting out a few prayers for it! Ha, ha! 😉

    God Bless,
    Pearl of Tyburn

    • Ricky

      Hi Pearl – Whatever we might think about Pope Benedict, I certainly respect him for recognising that at his advanced age, he is not physically able to continue fulfilling his role as head of the Roman Catholic Church, and has therefore decided to step down at the end of February.

      One problem the RC Church has is, having declared something as sinful or heresy – whatever you want to call it – it doesn’t really have a mechanism to un-declare what was previously declared heretical, when it becomes perfectly clear that they got it wrong in the first place. A good example is the way Galileo was declared a heretic for saying that the earth goes around the sun & not vice versa. Pope John Paul II did issue some form of apology but it seems that the original condemnation cannot be rescinded, which is absurd. Some of what you describe as ‘matters of Catholic teaching and cannot be changed’, will at some point in the future, be changed – possibly not in my lifetime but probably in yours.

      As for the Ordinariate, all Anglican clergy who join, have to deny the validity of their ordination & all sacraments they have ever celebrated, & then be re-ordained. I believe I was legitimately ordained by a bishop with apostolic succession, so why should I want to deny it?

  • Ricky, I share your thoughts and feelings both on the resignation of Pope Benedict and on the effects of his papacy on the RC church. To take one example, the English-language Missal has deliberately turned its back on agreed ecumenical texts such as the Gloria and Creed in favour of a translation something more rigidly adhering to the Latin original. I think that speaks volumes about an unwillingness to seek a closer working relationship with other churches and an ongoing determination to turn back the tide of reform that issued from Vatican 2.

    As for his successor, given that all the cardinals who will be voting have been appointed by Pope Benedict or his predecessor, I don’t somehow see another John XXIII merging to renew the church – unfortunately.

    • Ricky

      Perpetua – your first paragraph example is one of many that could be cited of the ever-increasing backward steps by Pope Benedict, away from the welcome reforms introduced within the RC Church as a result of Vatican II. And whilst no one really knows who will be elected as his successor, the conservative nature of most of Pope Benedict’s appointments to the College of Cardinals, together with the equally conservative appointments by his predecessor, means that we are sadly likely to get a new Pope in a similar mould, only one that is some years younger.

  • Hello, again!

    Actually, the Catholic Church never declared that it was “heretical” to say that “the earth revolved around the sun”, per se. The Galileo situation was much, much for complicated than that, having as much to do with his arrogant personal attitude towards his oft times dubious scientific discoveries as anything.

    I still don’t quite understand why you assume these Catholic doctrines are bound to be altered. They are what make the Catholic Church what it is. These are the things in which we believe, and we have good reason to believe in them. People who don’t agree can always join another church, if they feel so moved. We’re not locking them in the basement of the Vatican in some sort of latter-day Inquisition chamber to keep them with us!

    And therein lies the tale. Just as Catholics who come to disagree with our doctrines are free to go out, people from other denominations who come to believe in our doctrines are sure come in. Hence, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As for the ordination question – well, I just think a few bugs got into the whole Anglican system thanks to a hefty gentleman with six wives, his brain-washed little son, Eddy, and some unsavory in-laws from wife #3! 😉

    But anyway, if you ever get the urge to get re-ordained, all services are provided by the courtesy of the-soon-to-be-former Papa B.! 😉

    Happy St. Valentine’s Day!


    • Ricky

      Hi Pearl – From the Wikipedia article about Galileo; ‘He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest’.

      As for Roman Catholic doctrines & practices not changing, what I find highly odd is that married Anglican priests are allowed to join the Ordinariate & are then re-ordained, whilst existing RC priests are not allowed to marry without resigning their orders. Some change has been allowed and eventually, more will follow.

  • Absolutely indeed, Rick, although I have to say that honestly I often feel sick of this artificial generated hype around his resignation. The catholic church isn’t relevant or valuable any more, it has got a significant history and played a really important role in the story of the human civilization, but it has lost its hegemony and might (and we have to feel glad about this) and doesn’t count any more. Even if the pope announced his resignation and it doesn’t depend on his reasons…

    • Ricky

      I don’t think it is artificially generated but I am surprised at the way the resignation virtually took over the news media for two or three days.

  • Hi, Rev. Yates,

    Indeed, Galileo was “under strong suspect of heresy”, but the Catholic Church never declared that the theory of the earth revolving around the sun was heretical. As I mentioned previously, there were a number of problems presented by the arrogant manner in which Galileo went about proclaiming his theories and mocking the hierarchy as “simpletons”. His pride was his fall, and quite a few of his theories were proven to be incorrect in the end.

    Married Anglican priests who convert have been allowed to become Catholic priests because of a special dispensation administered to make the transition easier, since there has been quite an influx of Anglican converts as of late! However, the Ordinariates will not continue to have married priests as a continuing practice from generation to generation.

    For more information about the Ordinariates and the pros and cons of Catholic conversions, Marcus Grodi (a convert himself) has a very informative website here:

    God Bless,

    P.S. Remember…..there’s always room for a good Welsh-speaking homilist/photographer, accompanied by his beloved frau and feline, in one of the Ordinariate rectories! Who knows? A change of collar might make it a bit easier when trying to get a Czech driver’s license!!! ;-D

    • Ricky

      Sorry Pearl, but the reality is that Galileo was condemned for heresy by the Roman Catholic Church, for declaring several things every thinking person now happily accepts as scientific fact. Not everything he declared was completely correct but the bulk of them were. My point was and is, that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t have a mechanism to say, ‘We got it wrong’.

      On married priests, you might like to read this article , an interview with one of your Cardinals who will vote in the forthcoming conclave.

  • Reverend,

    It seems that Cardinal O’Brien is currently in need of our prayers in more ways than one. I don’t know if there is any truth in the allegations of sexual misconduct or not (apparently he’s still denying them), but the combination of the accusations and his controversial/clumsily worded comment will definitely lower his reputation at the conclave and possibly even block him from the proceedings altogether.

    While we’re on the subject, though, I’d like to clarify that priestly celibacy is not a doctrine, but rather a discipline within Catholicism, and it does not rank on the same level with female ordination, which can never be permitted. Technically, a Pope could allow more married men to join the priesthood, such as those who are currently doing so in the Ordinariate and the Eastern Rites.

    However, this does not mean that a “blanket” dispensation would be granted to allow all priests who have previously taken vows of chastity to get married. Vows of celibacy among men and women in religious life are sacred pledges to offer everything one has in the service of God and to, in effect, “marry” the Church. It is a time-honored discipline, and a beneficial one in many ways.

    To read a very good article on the subject, go here:

    God Bless,

    P.S. This as an aside, but I have to say I don’t know how Cardinal O’Brien could properly be considered a representative of “British” Catholics when he seems to be gung-ho for the Scottish independence movement. I know politics and religion are different matters (in this area, at least), but I strongly feel that one cannot be both a patriot for Britain and in favor of dividing the country. Honestly, I’m hoping that his successor will fit the role as representative of the Catholic “British” people more aptly.

  • Oh! And concerning Mr. Galileo….

    “Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method to more simply account for the planets’ motions. His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as truth, though there was no conclusive proof of it at the time. Even so, Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. But, despite his friends’ warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.”

    To read the whole article, you can go here:

    • Ricky

      Sorry Pearl – the article to which you link, is full of wishful thinking. The way Galileo was treated, & the fact that several centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church is still trying to excuse itself & blame Galileo, just illustrates my original point. The Roman Catholic Church has no mechanism for acknowledging that, just occasionally, it gets things wrong. It would be far more respected by me & many, many others, if it would acknowledge that it has made past mistakes and then to apologise for them.

  • Hi, Rev. Yates,

    I agree with you that Cardinal O’Brien should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but I also understand why he declined attending the conclave. The media would have turned things into a circus. You raise a valid point about the disproportionate amount of cardinals from different countries. I hope that problem may be resolved in the future, so that a more balanced number of cardinals per nation will be present.

    (I know this probably won’t be much consolation to anybody, but, as I mentioned previously, Cardinal O’Brien sort of rejected his “Britishness” when he came out in favor of the Scottish independence movement. So he’s really more of a Brit-in-name-only!)

    I think we can both agree that things were done in history that make modern people shudder (i.e. Catholics burning Protestants, Protestants hacking Catholics to pieces, etc.) However, we cannot measure the occurences of the past by present standards. The same holds true for Galileo, who, in comparison with the examples above, was treated relatively mildly. I’m not saying the church officials who condemned him were “right”; what I am saying is that Galileo’s cocky attitude and insulting language contributed to the verdict!

    Furthermore, Pope John Paul II actually did apoligize for a whole list of failings on the parts of Catholics. Galileo is in that list:

    God Bless,

    • Ricky

      Hi again Pearl,

      Yes – there is always a danger of ‘trial by media’ & I do believe Cardinal O’Brien resigned when he did, & Pope Benedikt accepted his resignation immediately, was all with a view to avoid adverse publicity affecting the forthcoming papal conclave.

      You are quite to point out that both Protestants & Roman Catholics have a bad past track record in their treatment of each other. And both sides need to acknowledge their past failings. Certainly, Pope John Paul II did offer several apologies for past failings by the RC Church and he should be commended for doing so. I have previously mentioned this in an earlier post about Jan Hus But my point was & still is, that the RC Church still has no real mechanism to formally say, ‘We were wrong’.

      I think our exchange on this needs to end here, other than me replying to your following comment regarding celibacy.

  • And thank you for posting the article link….It was interesting, but I still disagree with the author. I honestly the role of the priest and the vow of celibacy fit hand-in-glove. The priest represents Jesus Christ, who never married, but rather offered himself fully to “The Church”. I believe celibacy is beautiful, especially considering how much sexual sin their is in the world. The idea that people actual make the conscious decison to “live” without it and offer themselves fully to Christ and the Church is truly admirable. Those who feel they are not called to celibacy are not under any obligation to commit to it; they can get married and have 10 kids if they wish! Furthermore, those who “can’t take it” are free to leave the priesthood.


    • Ricky

      Pearl – Whilst Jesus never married, at least one of his disciples was – namely Peter, whom Roman Catholics claim to be the first Pope/Bishop of Rome. He had a mother-in-law 🙂 Priestly celibacy was only enforced from around the eleventh century, in part to avoid wives or children of married priests, claiming the inheritance of Church property.

      There are many excellent priests, (RC & Anglican), who are celibate & feel called to a life of celibacy. That should be admired & respected. But enforcing celibacy on the clergy doesn’t prevent ‘sexual sin’, it actually causes it! See this BBC news report about the Roman Catholic Church in Poland .

  • Fergus

    Ricky – on your point about no British citizen being involved. Surely, in England at least, the true representation of the Church Catholic is manifested in Canterbury, not Rome. We don’t need representation at the conclave because the true Catholic Church in England withdrew from that particular mechanism several centuries ago. A fact about which I (and I’m sure you are too) am rather pleased!!

    • Ricky

      Extremely good point Fergus! Yes I do share the pleasure you express 🙂 However, the Church of England does not make exclusive claims, unlike the Roman Catholic Church which thinks it is the Catholic (i.e. universal) Church. The Preface to the Declaration of Assent states, ‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. And I have, on several occasions during my ordained ministry, given my assent to that.

  • Dear Rev. Yates,

    Yes, I do agree that “the Diet of Worms” should have a recess session now! 😉

    If I may say just one thing more, this time directed at Fergus in response to his comment, as a conclusionary quote: “Esse in profunda sit historia, desinere esse Protestantium.”

    Thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me, and for allowing me to express my differences of opinion.

    Signing off with best wishes…..
    Pearl of Tyburn

  • I am a Protestant and haven’t read too much about what goes on in Catholic circles until the Pope resigned. In the past few weeks I have read several and it has left me concerned. From the palaces to the scandals to the power rivalries, it is bit of a bleak picture at times. I guess my hope would be that the new Pope would go back to the Bible as the basis of authority and instill reform. There are many devoted Catholics who seem to understand and believe in the gospel. The leaders, however, seem to be too political. On the other hand, Protestant churches aren’t perfect either.