Pope hinted at resignation three years ago

Stunning as it is, the NEWS this morning that Pope Benedict XVI will step down later this month fullfills speculation that he fueled himself with a passage in his 2010 book “Light of the World,” in which he wrote that if a pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church considered himself “no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of carrying out the duties of his office,” he would have “the right, and in some circumstances the obligation, to resign.”

Benedict’s resignation also is proper grist for this blog’s mill, in that the Vatican has considerable political influence around the world, including here in the United States, where tens of millions of people claim membership in the Catholic Church.

The end of Benedict’s papacy inevitably will touch off widespread speculation on who might be his successor and how the church might change as a result.

And already, there are analyses of Benedict’s stewardship of this largest of the world’s Christian denominations — THIS ONE, for example:

The former Joseph Ratzinger came to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church with a reputation as a challenging, conservative intellectual. But the messages he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics.

Ratzinger had spent almost a quarter of a century in the Vatican, so it was reasonable for the cardinals who elected him to assume he understood it inside out, and would be keen to improve its workings. But, although he had been an influential and trusted lieutenant of John Paul II, the new German pope was a paradox.

On the one hand, he was intellectually remorseless. Not for nothing had he attracted the nickname “God’s rottweiler”. Yet, like many scholars, he was personally timid – wholly lacking in that desk-thumping vigour needed to foist reforms on clerics whose resistance to change is the stuff of legend.

The abuse scandals dominated his nearly eight years as leader of the world’s Catholics. Before his accession, there had been scandals in the US and Ireland. But in 2010, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.

The pope was personally affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly reassigned to duties that, in time, allowed him to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that Benedict might have a certain advantage over popes who died in office:

He’ll likely have more influence on the choice of a successor.



  1. I can’t help to think that there is something more here. For whatever reason, Pope Benedict never appeared quite as popular as his predecessor. And with membership in the Catholic church declining the Pope may have been “encouraged” to step aside.

    The most likely successor appears to be Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson. Having the first black Pope in over 1500 years would send a huge shock wave and gather an abundance of attention for the church. No doubt membership would improve, especially in his native Africa and perhaps in highly populated places like India and China.

  2. The Comedian

    A black Pope? Finally I can be happy to be a Catholic!

  3. Comedian: I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Some black prelates are very, very conservative.

  4. Pope Benedict wasn’t as popular as John Paul II because JPII was a rockstar. Benedict had an almost impossible job of filling his shoes.

    The Catholic Church continues to grow, both in the US and worldwide.

    A black pope would indeed be awesome.


  5. Luke Fredrickson

    We are entering a very dangerous and anxious time for Catholics around the world.

    Between the time Joe resigns and they pick a new Pope, there will only be human beings in charge!

  6. The Comedian

    Pat, to be honest I’m uninterested in their ideology. I just think it would benefit Catholicism to show the world that the Church isn’t a bunch of rich old white establishment men. Hopefully, in time, they can elect a gay Pope and start side-lining some of the more archaic portions of the bible. Until then, I’m elated at the prospect of a black pope, irregardless of his theology. I mean, I’m Catholic a few times a year; theology doesn’t drive that.

  7. Comedian: Who says there hasn’t been a gay pope? There just hasn’t been an openly gay pope.

    For all we know, there might well have one of more pontiffs whose sexual orientation was gay, whether they acted on it or not.

    And as for “side-lining some of the more archaic portions of the Bible,” the Vatican has been doing that for a long time. Catholics don’t generally subscribe to literal interpretation of scripture. For example, at most, if not all, Catholic schools, evolution rather than creationism is taught.

    Read this: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_05104.shtml

  8. Perhaps a female Pope. God knows men can’t control themselves.

  9. The Comedian

    That’s true, Pat. I’m more interested in the portions dealing with homosexuality/sexual immorality/abortion. And, although I realize this is acting rather picky, evolution and creationism aren’t really biblical doctrine; the scriptures never specifically state we evolved over billions of years or were created in a matter of days. So that portion relies more on interpretation rather than the above mentioned “archaic portions.” Now, if they’re teaching theisitc evolution over secular evolution I guess that would qualify as archaic. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with Catholic schooling, maybe you can help me out there?

    Also, the author of that article mistakenly asserts that the book of Genesis tells two different creation stories. I’ve heard that stated elsewhere, most notably in college. It has nothing to do with our conversation, but I have to point it out. It’s become quite the pet peeve.

  10. Comedian: Regarding your claim that “the scriptures never specifically state we evolved over billions of years or were created in a matter of days,” the first part is a profound grasp of the obvious, and the second part is just plain wrong. The Bible does, in fact, say that the world was created in a matter of days, although some scholars say the meaning of a “day” in scripture is not necessarily a 24-hour period.

    And the book of Genesis does, in fact, include two accounts of creation:


  11. The Comedian

    It isn’t wrong. The first book of Genesis is a poem. So, again, it’s a matter of interpretation. Also, saying “two stories” is different than saying “two accounts.” The exact quote from the piece you linked states: “But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different stories of creation are told.” He says TWO DIFFERENT stories. So your assumption that my statement was incorrect is absolutely misguided. As to the first point that really grapsed the obvious, I thought it was necessary to state since you used the teaching of evolution over creationism as an example of how the Catholic church has already diverged from super conservative theology.

  12. The Comedian says:
    I just think it would benefit Catholicism to show the world that the Church isn’t a bunch of rich old white establishment men.

    That may have already happened:

  13. Can we expect the Catholic change with the next Pope? I don’t really think so. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the archbishop of Quebec City, has the best odds of replacing Pope Benedict XVI, but he is an extremely conservative man who will definitely not want the Catholic Church to change. He is expected to be the continuity of Pope Benedict XVI.

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