Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

What do you call an ex-Pope?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 11, 2013

Among the many questions raised by the resignation of Pope Benedict, this one isn’t in the top 20. But since it has already been asked, and the director of the Vatican press office has admitted that he doesn’t know the answer, let’s give it a moment’s thought:

Question: What is the appropriate title for a retired Pope?

Answer: Don’t worry about it; it doesn’t matter.

Once he leaves office on February 28, Pope Benedict XVI won’t be hanging around the Vatican, looking over his successor’s shoulder. He won’t be giving interviews or press conferences. He will do his utmost to disappear from public view.

We don’t know, at this point, how quickly the Holy Father’s health is deteriorating. We don’t know whether he has recently received some news from his doctors—or perhaps even from his own body—warning him that he cannot continue working much longer. But we do know that for years he has longed for quiet and solitude. He never wanted to live his life on the public stage. Once he makes his exit, it will be for good.

It’s no secret that at least twice, while serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to resign, only to have Pope John Paul II prevail upon him to continue his work. He wanted to retire to his study, to read and write, without the burdens of administrative office. No doubt he still hoped that eventually he would have that sort of quiet, scholarly retirement; but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him. Now at last, for whatever time he has remaining to him, he can finally taste the long-awaited pleasures of solitude, spending his days with his books, his piano, and perhaps one or two cats. May God grant him peace in his final days.

So how do you refer to a retired Pope? If Benedict XVI has his way, you don’t.

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - May. 30, 2018 11:39 AM ET USA

    Many men facing odious criminal conviction, heart disease, and mental impairment might decide that the people they were supposed to serve would be better off with someone else at the helm. But Archbishop Wilson isn’t a man of that sort. His see is his personal property, darn it, and no one’s gonna pry his fingers off it until he’s good and ready!

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Feb. 11, 2013 4:54 PM ET USA

    My own dad, God rest his soul, got up at midnight one night, cleaned his little room at my sister's house, did all his laundry, and made his bed to pass inspection, a thing he never did in years. Shortly thereafter, he was hospitalized with heart failure, and he did not leave alive. This is very common, and it would not surprise me to hear similar news about Pope Benedict. I am just gratified that the sendoff of Cardinal Mahony was one of his last approvals.