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Regarding Pope Benedict’s resigning, I’ve heard the terms ‘resignation’ and ‘abdication’ used. Which is correct?

BY The Editors

March 10-23, 2013 Issue | Posted 3/1/13 at 3:41 PM


The Vatican and Benedict XVI have used the terms "resignation" and "renounce."

Here’s the perspective of Father George Rutler, in a Crisis magazine article entitled "Benedict’s Decision in the Light of Eternity": "When the pope relinquishes the Petrine authority, he does not submit a letter of resignation to any individual, for the only one capable of receiving it is Christ. This is why ‘renunciation’ or ‘abdication’ is a more accurate term than ‘resignation’ in the case of the Supreme Pontiff."

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., in comments sent to canon lawyers and posted with permission at, noted: "The official English translation of the Code of Canon Law translates ‘renuntiatio’ in Canon 332, §2 as ‘resignation.’ … Accordingly, I believe ‘resign’ is a more accurate translation in this context than ‘renounce’ and certainly not ‘abdicate’ (a term used by royalty when a monarch steps down from the throne). It does seem odd that someone could resign without submitting that resignation to anyone, so the canon specifically addresses that question by saying that for validity it is required that the resignation must be ‘made freely and properly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.’

"Although ‘renounce’ has been used even in the Holy See’s translation of his announcement and letter of resignation, I think that ‘renounce’ is a literal but not necessarily accurate translation of ‘renuntio’ in this context. Since the Pope wrote and spoke in Latin, it is a question of translation. Parallel passages in canon law regarding bishops and pastors stepping down from office use the word ‘renuntiatio,’ but we never speak of a bishop sending in his letter of ‘renunciation’ when he turns 75 or a pastor ‘renouncing’ his office. So my interpretation as a canon lawyer is that ‘resignation’ is the proper translation of ‘renuntiatio’ in this context."

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