by Stephen Williams
Just a few days ago, on 11 February, Pope Benedict XVI resigned to take effect on 28 February. Simple words, but ones which sent a seismic shock through the world’s Roman Catholic community and stunned religious groups worldwide. A natural first reaction was to ask whether it were possible for a Pope to resign, hadn’t they all died in office?
There is precedent for such resignation, but not for seven centuries, not since Pope Celestine V resigned in 1294 after only three months in office. Canon Law does apparently contemplate the possibility of resignation, but only if freely entered into, which appears to be the case here. Pope Benedict cited an inability to carry out Papal duties thanks to advancing old age, but of course no reason given would ever have satisfied the rumour mill, which has swung into top gear. Could he be suffering from some life-shortening incurable disease? Could it be a protest by him against certain factions within the church which he saw as too powerful? Could it be disgust at certain actions taken by members of the church? Leading Italian newspaper La Repubblica cites undisclosed Vatican sources saying the Pope was at least influenced by thefts at the Vatican Bank and homosexual activities within the ranks, but who really knows?
The Pope’s legacy is as yet unsure. Certainly less than his immediate predecessor Pope John Paul II, already on the path to sainthood, but will history speak only of the scandals that dogged his reign? And what happens in the inter-regnum? Will Benedict still be called his holiness? Will he still be infallible after his resignation? Questions, questions, and answers will only be achieved by the election of a new Pope. Will he be from the emerging nations where the growth of the Catholic church is currently being achieved? Sorry, too many questions!
In any event, there’s nothing like being a witness to historical events. The forthcoming conclave of cardinals which will elect Benedict’s successor is happening soon, so best get a booking confirmed for one of our superb central Rome apartments at the end of February/beginning of March. Be there when the faithful will see the famous white smoke issuing forth and the cry “Habemus Papam” will ring around St Peter’s Square.
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