13 February 2013

Courageous humble Pope retires to make way for capable leadership

Religious news often makes headlines for the wrong reasons.
In this case one of the most respected religious leaders in the world is stepping down, relinquishing the power of his office because he no longer has the strength to exercise his authority well.
While it does cause some disturbance within the Catholic church, it is a beautiful example of humility, integrity, courage and love of the church.
Questions come to mind:
What does a pope retire to?
If he is very unwell. Hopefully he will have rest and appropriate care.
But where? Is there a place for him, an apartment with caregivers, peace and quiet? I would assume so.
What precedents are there for the pope to resign?
The Arlington Catholic Herald reports, "In the history of the Church, a few popes have resigned for various reasons, and a few have been deposed for various reasons. The first pope to resign was Pope St. Pontian, who was elected as the Successor of St. Peter on July 21, 230. During the persecution of Christians under Emperor Maximinus Thrax, St. Pontian was exiled to Sardinia and condemned to work in the salt mines, which no one was meant to survive. Therefore, he resigned as pope on Sept. 28, 235, to enable the election of a new pope, St. Anteros, who could govern the Church. Pope St. Pontian was martyred in 236 (237), either from ill treatment in general or from a mortal beating.
On the other hand, Pope St. Silverius, who was consecrated pope on June 1, 536, was the first pope forcibly deposed. In March 537, the wicked Byzantine Empress Theodora had Pope St. Silverius captured and removed from Rome for not approving her nominations of heretics for bishops. He was exiled to the island of Palmaria where he remained a prisoner until his death on Nov. 11, 537. Since Pope St. Silverius had been declared "deposed," the clergy and people of Rome elected Pope Vigilius, who was consecrated on March 29, 537, (and was favored by the Empress).
A similar situation befell Pope St. Martin I, who was consecrated pope in July 649. Pope St. Martin opposed the Byzantine Emperor's attempt to promote the monothelite heresy and to appoint heretical bishops. The emperor had Pope St. Martin kidnapped, taken to Constantinople, deposed, condemned and exiled. He died in the Crimea on Sept. 16, 656, of ill-treatment and neglect. Pope St. Martin I is the last pope to die a martyr.
Pope Clement II crowned Henry III as Holy Roman Emperor. He also decreed that anyone guilty of simony (the selling of Church offices) would be excommunicated.
In 1059, Pope Nicholas II regulated the process of electing the pope, making the cardinals the papal electors.
Another pope to resign was St. Celestine V, who was elected pope on July 5, 1294, and consecrated on Aug. 29. He was a Benedictine monk who enjoyed the life of a hermit and was renowned for his spirituality. To break a deadlocked College of Cardinals, he was elected as pope even though he was 84 years old. Immediately, he became prey to scheming cardinals and nobility alike. He resigned on Dec. 13, 1294, and returned to his monastery. His successor, Pope Boniface VIII, had him imprisoned so that there would be no attempt to place him on the throne again. (He must have remembered Benedict IX.) Pope St. Celestine died on May 19, 1295. Although canonized a saint, Dante placed him in Hell in The Divine Comedy for resigning.
Pope Gregory XII (1406 - 1415) was elected as the legitimate pope at a time when there were two anti-popes: The Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII, who was supported by the French king; and the Pisa Pope, John XXIII, who was supported by conciliarists of the renegade Council of Pisa. (Please be sure to note that neither of these two latter mentioned pope were really pope.) Finally, at the Council of Constance (an official council), in order to heal the Church, Pope Gregory XII officially resigned, Benedict XIII resigned and John XXIII was deposed; Pope Martin V (1417 - 1431) was then elected as the legitimate successor of St. Peter, following Gregory XII.

Or as the WSJ explains, "The last pontiff to resign in office, he was caught up in the leadership crisis known as the Great Schism, in which three rival popes had been elected by rival church factions. He stepped down in 1415 after 10 years and negotiated with a council appointed to end the split. Pope Gregory, recognized as the legitimate pope by the church, became a bishop and retired."
Therefore, we find some colorful history to the papacy, concerning resignations and depositions. However, there is much to learn from these stories: First, if a pope resigns from office, there will always be the temptation to challenge the authority of the new pope, pitting him against the old. Secondly, in modern times, the Church has been blessed with truly holy popes who have been strong leaders. Third, the Church has definitely made itself more independent, free of political machinations from secular leaders.
Pope John Paul II, has consistently said that he will serve as long as the Lord desires. Let us pray for his health as well as his general intentions. He certainly is a great successor of St. Peter."

Or again, from the WSJ, "Pope Benedict's decision to step down, one taken by only a few of his 264 recognized predecessors, is certain to be less eventful. "Once Benedict XVI retires, I am extremely sure he will retire to pray and will not interfere in any way whatsoever with the governance choices the church makes," said Dario Eduardo Viganò, head of the Vatican television center. The pontiff, whose civil name is Joseph Ratzinger, will, however, be free to write and communicate his views, said chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi."
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Saunders, Rev. William. "Can the Pope Retire?" Arlington Catholic Herald. This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.
WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324196204578298772026783066.html
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