So the big news of the day (thus far) seems to be Pope Benedict XVI surprise announcement that he intends to resign the Petrine ministry effective on 28 February.
The announcement is surprising on at least two fronts –– first because it seems that nobody had any idea that the Pope was even considering stepping down, and second, because this sort of resignation hasn’t happened in roughly six-hundred years, when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to end the Western Schism.
Despite being an Old School Southern Presbyterian, I am something of an inveterate Pope watcher. While I respected Pope John Paul II as a man (and what a man he was), I was thrilled when Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy –– first, because whatever disagreements I have with the Roman communion on doctrinal fronts, Benedict is a theologian, and it’s been years since a true theologian occupied the chair of St. Peter (at least in my opinion). The second reason that I was thrilled with Benedict’s election was that finally the Pope was Roman Catholic again! With John Paul II, the Pope was so ecumenical that I wasn’t sure how Catholic he really was; there was no such suspicion with Benedict XVI.
Of course, I have to offer my prognostications as to whom the College of Cardinals might elect as Benedict XVI’s successor. In my mind, while Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson is probably considered the front-runner in many circles, I don’t see him being elected as the Catholic churches in Africa can be very disconnected from the church that the majority of the European cardinals labor in.
Given the sizable and influential voting bloc of Italian cardinals, surely Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco is worth watching, but he may be seen as too traditional even for traditionalist Cardinals.
For what it is worth, if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Cardinal Marc Ouellet. He is by far the most qualified, as he speaks English, French, Portugese, Italian, Spanish, and German fluently, and has done missionary work in South America (and the global South is where the future lies for the Roman communion). While there are persistent rumors that he might decline –– especially since he has called the office of Pope a “crushing responsibility” that he would hesitate to take –– it is that humility that makes him the most attractive candidate.
Another candidate to keep your eye on is Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera. He’s Italian (which is a plus in a College of Cardinals with a strong Italian presence), and he’s known as “Little Ratzinger”, so his election would signal continuity and satisfaction with Benedict XVI’s slow and methodical re-traditionalizing of the Roman communion. On the other hand, the lingering unhappiness with Benedict’s liturgical reforms might work against him as well.
But no matter what, let’s remember our Catholic friends in prayer…the next month is going to be a roller-coaster for them.
- Pope announces resignation (gazette.com)
- The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI: Is It Health? Or Politics? Or Both? (world.time.com)
- Pope Benedict XVI in shock resignation (mumbailaity.wordpress.com)
- Pope Benedict XVI to resign; first to do so since 1415 (jacksonville.com)
- Pope Benedict XVI to resign this month (al.com)
- Vatican: Pope Benedict XVI to Resign (foxnews.com)
- Pope Benedict XVI to resign due to ‘deteriorating’ health (news.nationalpost.com)
- Popes who stepped down: A turbulent history (newsinfo.inquirer.net)