Action Alert!

'Father Benedict' sheds some insight on his resignation

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 12, 2014

If it is accurate--and I have no reason to doubt that it is-- the report that Benedict XVI wanted to be known as “Father Benedict” after his resignation is strange and illuminating. Why? Because today he is not known as Father Benedict.

Even before Pope Benedict stepped down, the Vatican announced that he would be known as “Pope-emeritus.” Why didn’t the outgoing Pontiff get his own way? The Vatican is not a democracy; the Pope sets the rules. Yet in this case the Pope permitted others to overrule him.

This is not a case in which the Pope was persuaded to bow to established precedents; there were no precedents to follow.

According to the German journalist Jorg Bremer, the former Pontiff now recalls that he wanted to be addressed as Father Benedict, but “I was too weak at that point to enforce it.”

Notice the words: “at that point.” When Pope Benedict announced his resignation, most observers agreed that his health was poor. There were stories about spikes in his blood pressure, warnings from his doctor, dangerous stumbles and one serious fall. Visitors reported that he was visibly exhausted by long meetings. In a  surprise announcement the frail Pope explained:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

Many journalists concluded at the time that Pope Benedict was near death. But nearly two full years later he remains active and alert; if anything, he looks healthier than he did when he resigned. Relieved of the burdens of the papacy, he has made at least a partial recovery.

But now, in retrospect, we can see the reasoning that lay behind the Pope’s decision to resign. If he felt too weak to enforce his decision on a matter as simple as what he should be called, what decisions could he have enforced? By the end of his term, Pope Benedict surely saw the need for thorough reforms at the Vatican; he knew that he lacked the energy to lead them.

If he had been fully confident in his subordinates, Pope Benedict might have stayed in office, cutting back his own schedule and delegating more decisions. But as I commented at the time, his resignation seemed a clear indication that he did not have that level of confidence in the Vatican bureaucracy. “For the welfare of the Church, he could not allow the Roman Curia to act on his behalf.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Dec. 15, 2014 4:19 PM ET USA

    It seems to me that Pope Benedict was a 'suffering servant'.

  • Posted by: jlw5094538 - Dec. 12, 2014 6:59 PM ET USA

    More than rumblings about the Synod, the Burke re-assignment, the Vatican decision to publish the Scalfari "interviews," etc. -- this was the one bit of recent Rome news that truly took me aback. Was +Benedict so feeble, so depleted, that he couldn't even insist upon his own preferred form of address? Oy - it makes him sound helpless in the hands of an unnamed cabal which easily thwarted him in matters large and small. That sends a shiver through me. Is the Curia a pack of wolves and bullies?