Effective February 28 at 8pm Rome time, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will resign the office of the papacy.
This announcement was made public in an address delivered by the Holy Father to a group of Church officials gathered at the Vatican yesterday. The pope spoke to his fellow prelates in Latin, the official language of the Church, citing his “advanced age” as one of the reasons for his inability to carry out an “adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Benedict’s papacy began roughly eight years ago in April of 2005 after the death of the long-reigning Pope John Paul II. Benedict, who was 78 years old at his election, was expected by many to be a so-called “transition pope” because the previous papacy had lasted nearly twenty-six and a half years. Nevertheless, his pontificate saw many far ranging and productive achievements.
A particular focus of his papacy was the promotion of Christian unity. His Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus set up canonical structures for the reception of Anglicans who wished to be united with Rome. For some time, similar talks have been said to be in the works with members of the Lutheran Church.
Another aspect of Benedict’s motions for unity was his controversial lifting of the excommunications of the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X who had been illicitly consecrated in 1988 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Talks regarding the regularization of the Society have been ongoing but seem to have stalled since last summer.
Benedict’s erudition was also on display throughout his papacy, having been a university professor during his younger days. In his many homilies, writings, and other public addresses, he revealed his deep knowledge of the Christian faith. In addition to three encyclical letters, the pope also published a three-part book series entitled Jesus of Nazareth between 2007 and 2012.
A continual reckoning with the fruits of the Second Vatican Council undergirded nearly all of Benedict’s actions during his time in office. Having served as a theological expert at the Council, Benedict had his own methodological approach to interpreting and implementing the sixteen documents that it produced. Referred to as the hermeneutic of continuity, Benedict’s method insisted that the Council be viewed and interpreted in the light of Tradition, apart from which no authentic understanding could be arrived at.
According to Vatican Spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor is expected to be completed in time for Easter on March 31.
Cardinals, who are entrusted with the responsibility of choosing a successor, were shocked today to learn of the pope’s nearly unprecedented resignation. Other Church officials are speculating whether the setting of this precedent may become a new trend in the modern papacy.
New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan expressed his filial devotion to his brother bishop saying, “The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did. His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church.”
Boston College students responded with equal sadness upon hearing of the Holy Father’s decision but understood the wisdom of his choice and the difficulties the pope would face were he to remain in office.
A group of students gathered in Gasson Chapel at 5:30pm yesterday to pray the rosary on behalf of Pope Benedict.
Wishing to leave the faithful with a message of hope, Pope Benedict concluded his resignation address: “Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry, and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.”