VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Pope Emeritus” after his retirement on Feb. 28, and will continue to wear white vestments, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.
Ever since Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, there had been wide speculation about seemingly small issues, such as what he would be called or whether he would retain the title of “pope.” Such details, however, carry great symbolical value within the tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told reporters that Benedict will continue to be called “His Holiness” and that his title will be “Pope Emeritus” or “Emeritus Roman Pontiff.”
He said Benedict had decided the issue himself, after consultations with experts.
If you want a crash course on how papal politics really works, look no further than the saga of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
On Friday, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric grabbed headlines by telling the BBC that priestly celibacy was “not of divine origin” and that he’d be “happy” if priests had the option to marry.
On Saturday, O’Brien was back in the news, this time after four men reportedly accused him of “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.
By Monday, O’Brien had resigned as archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would skip the conclave.
From champion of married priests to disgraced churchman within 72 hours, O’Brien’s trajectory is stunning but also emblematic of the frenetic and fever-pitched campaigning that occurs during the tiny window between a pope’s death or resignation and the election of his successor.
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is considering changes to church law regulating the election of a new pope, but stopped short of saying whether voting could start earlier than currently planned.
Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” regulates what happens between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor.
It stipulates that the conclave of cardinals must begin 15 to 20 days after the end of the previous pontificate.
But after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28, several voices within the church have asked for an earlier start to the voting to shorten the time the Catholic Church is left without a leader.
VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.
So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.
But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.
As the 117 Roman Catholic cardinals walk into the Sistine Chapel next month for the election of a new pope, one hopes that they fully recognize the unfolding, dramatic pilgrimage of world Christianity: The demographic center of Christian faith has moved decisively to the Global South.
Over the past century, this astonishing demographic shift is the most dramatic geographical change that has happened in 2,000 years of Christian history. Trends in the Catholic Church — comprising about 1 out of 2 Christians in the world — have generally followed this global pattern:
- In 1900, about 2 million of the world’s Catholic faithful lived in Africa; by 2010, this had grown to 177 million.
- 11 million Catholics were found in Asia in 1900; by 2010 there were 137 million Asian Catholics.
- Through colonial expansion, 59 million Catholics populated Latin America and the Caribbean in 1900; but by 2010, that number had grown to 483 million.
- In 1900, two-thirds of the world’s Catholic believers were in Europe and North America; today, two-thirds are in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
For the first time in six centuries, the head of the Catholic Church is stepping down. Some, like Huffington Post Religion’s Senior Editor Paul Raushenbush, have suggested this is an indication that the stodgy religious institution is creeping its way toward modernism. Could it be that the role of Pope will be considered to be that more like a CEO than a sovereign ruler? Is there room within today’s church for its leadership to step down when they feel they can no longer adequately fill the tremendous demands heaped upon them?
Can Popes retire? And if so, do they have to give up those cool red shoes?
So if, indeed, the Catholic Church is moving in a new direction, why not consider a more thorough overhaul? Some have suggested that the next Pope should come from the southern hemisphere, given that this is where the faith is growing the most (actually, it’s not really growing much at all in the northern half of the world). But as some have suggested within the church, the process of selecting a Pope is not necessarily driven by creating a representative leadership.
That said, it seems a rare opportunity to do something exciting. I, like many people, assumed that the successor to Pope Benedict would have to come from within the College of Cardinals. But though this has been tradition for most of the life of the Church, Pope Clement V is a rare exception. He was plucked from a monastery to become Pope, with the hope of overcoming much of the perceived corruption within the College.
And though the College of Cardinals is not explicitly mired in scandal at the moment, the Church itself certainly has suffered some blows in the court of public opinion, as well as in the court of law, in some cases. So given that precedent, perhaps it’s time for another radical departure from tradition, one that will signal to the world that the Church is more committed than ever before to its mandate to care for the poor, and support the marginalized.
Not all Catholics appreciated Pope Benedict XVI’s staunch defense of Christian orthodoxy, traditional marriage, and life from conception to natural death. But American evangelicals sure did.
As word spread on Monday of Benedict’s resignation, many evangelicals lamented the impending loss of a powerful spokesman for their conservative causes.
“Pope Benedict XVI has exemplified moral courage and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel message,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian political group.
“We honor him for his lifelong service to the Lord and his inestimable intellectual contribution to Christian orthodoxy.”
The high praise — “evangelical Benedictions,” you might say — extended beyond U.S. borders as well.
NEW YORK — Walk the streets of Manhattan, especially around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and ask passersby about Cardinal Timothy Dolan and two things stand out: one, they know who you’re talking about, and two, they like him. Often love him.
Both responses are unusual in the U.S. today: generally, Catholic churchmen are either interchangeable faces to the public, or, if they are known, it’s because of an unflattering headline.
Now Dolan’s extraordinary visibility and popularity are being cited as factors that could make him the first American with a realistic shot at being elected pope when the College of Cardinals gathers in March to elect a successor to Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI came into office with the reputation of a conservative hardliner, a vigorous defender of orthodoxy who wanted to restore Tradition — yes, with a capital “T” — to a church that was seen as disturbingly undisciplined.
Yet with the stunning announcement that he is resigning as the 264th successor to Saint Peter, Benedict may wind up fundamentally changing the way the church and the world view the papacy.
That’s because the papacy has come to represent more than an office, and the pope more than just a higher-ranking priest or bishop who enjoys lifetime tenure, a nice Vatican apartment, and the privilege of wearing a white cassock no matter the season.
Instead, the papacy is seen as a divine mission unlike any other in the church, and one that ends only in death.
“Christ did not come down from the cross,” the late John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, would tell aides who wondered if his failing health and public suffering should compel him to relinquish his office.
A man is elected pope by the cardinals, yes, but at the behest of the Holy Spirit, according to Catholic theology. He takes a new name, and can’t even go home to collect his things: He moves into the Vatican right away, inhabiting a new identity in a new position — so superior that canon law says a pope can resign, but says he cannot resign to anyone.