Pope Benedict shocked the world in 2013 by announcing his plans to renounce the papacy, becoming the first pope in centuries to do so.
I predicted at the time that it would not be centuries before another pope resigned, and that Benedict may have started a trend.
That prediction is now being borne out. Pope Francis has announced he may one day renounce the papacy also.
Here are 6 things to know and share . . .
1) Where did Pope Francis make his remarks?
In an interview with the Spanish-language newspaper La Vanguardia.
You can read the Spanish original here.
And you can read an English translation here.
2) How did the subject come up?
The reporter asked Pope Francis about what he thought of Pope Benedict’s resignation, as follows:
What do you think of the renunciation of Benedict XVI?
Pope Benedict has made a very significant act. He has opened the door, has created an institution, that of the eventual popes emeritus. 70 years ago, there were no emeritus bishops. Today how many are there? Well, as we live longer, we arrive to an age where we cannot go on with things.
Pope Francis thus sees Benedict XVI’s act as setting a precedent for future popes that mirrors the way in which bishops have similarly begun to have retirements in recent decades. Note that Francis refers to Benedict having “created an institution.”
Francis’s use of the plural (“eventual popes emeritus”) may even envision the idea of more than one former pope being alive at the same time. Indeed, in light of what he says next, he may be thinking of himself and Benedict XVI sharing this status at some point.
3) What does he say next?
He announces he may also renounce the papacy one day:
I will do the same as him, asking the Lord to enlighten me when the time comes and that he tell me what I have to do, and he will tell me for sure.
Pope Francis is thus not at the point of resigning, but he anticipates doing so “when the time comes,” if the Lord makes this clear to him.
4) Does he have plans for what to do in retirement?
Apparently so. Benedict XVI has chosen to live in seclusion at the Vatican, though there was initially some discussion of his returning to Germany. Benedict’s eventual decision to remain at the Vatican is apparently motivated by a desire not to cause problems for his successor by remaining out of the public eye.
This is not the only possible choice, though, and Pope Francis seems to envision a different retirement. The interview continues:
You have a room reserved in a retirement home in Buenos Aires.
Yes, it’s a retirement house for elderly priests. I was leaving the archdiocese at the end of last year and had already submitted my resignation to Benedict XVI when I turned 75. I chose a room and said, “I want to come to live here.” I will work as a priest, helping the parishes. This is what was going to be my future before being Pope.
Pope Francis thus appears intent on returning as pope emeritus to the same form of pastoral service that he was planning to undertake as a bishop emeritus.
5) When will this happen?
That cannot be known. It depends on how much time and strength God gives Pope Francis.
It cannot even be known that it will happen, for events could overtake these plans and he might, like most popes historically, end up remaining in office until his passing.
6) How will Pope Benedict be remembered for his act of renouncing the papacy?
Barring anything unforeseen, he will one day be declared a saint, and the grounds for sainthood will include the heroic virtue of being the first pope in centuries to renounce the papacy. Many recent popes have considered resignation, but Benedict XVI was the first one in centuries to actually do it.
A previous pope to resign—Celestine V—is also a saint, and for the same reason. He was canonized in 1313—17 years after his death—by his successor, Clement V, and in that case also his humility in walking away from the office of pope for the good of the Church played a prominent role in the decision to canonize. Indeed, Celestine V is the only 13th century pope who is a saint.
We’ve had more sainted popes recently. In the 20th century, we had St.s Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul II—who may soon be joined by Pius XII and Paul VI.
This is in part due to the fact that the popes we’ve had recently have been much holier than many of those in the Middle Ages (Benedict IX, anyone?).
However, it is very likely that Benedict XVI—who had the courage and humility to walk away from the office of pope for what he perceived to be the good of the Church—is likely to be the first sainted pope of the 21st century.
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