Monday’s news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation of the papacy was for me, as indeed for many others, a bombshell. I candidly admit that news of his death would have been less shocking.
I remember very well the elation that swept over me on hearing the news that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected by the Conclave and that he had taken the name Benedict XVI. It was a case of hope against hope.
The media moguls and liberals were less enthused and on them a deep gloom settled: “definitely no change” they grumbled. They were not slow in chiding the new Pope for what they perceived as his naivety as in the case of the Regensburg address, which, raising Muslim ire, provoked unbelievable demonstrations in Islamic countries worldwide. The Holy Father by simply quoting the 13th century Byzantium Emperor Michael Paleologus who charged Islam with unreasonableness, allowed the reaction to prove the charge. Brilliant, I thought. The attempt to implicate him in the homosexual paedophile scandal failed miserably as it emerged that he, in fact, had done more than any other to tackle the issue. The condoms in Africa issue was another tinderbox from which he emerged as a master strategist. Pope Benedict’s defence of life and of the true meaning of human sexuality has been clear, consistent and unequivocal. For courageously calling abortion a “crime against society that kills the child and destroys the woman”, Planned Parenthood declared him a dangerous enemy. His statements, undoubtedly, angered the enemy outside the Church of which he is the Supreme Pastor.
The Holy Father provoked the enemy within by calling for an interpretation of Vatican II that is based upon a “hermeneutic of renewal in continuity”, that is, “what was sacred before the Council is sacred today.” He crystallised this call with the document Summorum Pontificum in which he declared that the Traditional Mass had never been abolished nor Latin forbidden. Suffice it to say that the reaction bordered on the hostile. In the words of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Church’s highest judicial authority after the Pope “There’s no question that there remains in certain places a resistance to what the Holy Father has asked, and that’s sad. It’s sometimes even an expression of disagreement with the Holy Father’s discipline and even an expression that this is harmful for the Church.”
The Holy Father’s attempt to establish continuity in a decree lifting the excommunications from the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X resulted in a pillorying by modernists within the Church, in a collaboration with secular Jews. In a letter to the world’s bishops, the Holy Father expressed sincere shock at the lack of fraternal charity on the part of those whom he naively assumed had reverence for his office and for himself. The betrayal by his own butler in the Vatileaks affair indicates how close the enemy inside is.
Pope Benedict cited “advanced age” and a lack of “strength of mind and body” as the factors that led him to conclude that he is incapable of “adequately fulfilling” the Petrine ministry. While he certainly is of advanced age, I think there are deeper reasons for his resignation. Pope Benedict is a master strategist. He has already set the Church on course. What is required now is a successor of the calibre of St Pius X, or St Gregory VII, or even St. Leo the Great or St. Gregory the Great, who will mete out the firm discipline that is necessary to protect the Faith and faithful from those who openly resist the corrections that are needed to avert the present day crisis.
Papal resignations are rare but not new. There have been four in history and all made for the greater good of Christ’s Church. The third century pope, St Pontian was the first Bishop of Rome to resign. During the persecutions of the Emperor Severus, he was arrested and sent to the salt mines in 235. He resigned his office in order that a successor could be elected in Rome. Pope St Martin was arrested by the emperor Constans because of his refusal to approve the Monothelite heresy. He resigned in 654 so that the Church could be free to elect his successor. St Celestine V, a hermit elected because of his personal holiness, found himself unsuited to the task and so, in 1294, resigned for the good of the Church. The last pope to step down was Gregory XII, who did so in 1415 in order to end the Great Western Schism. These four popes, like Christ who loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph.5:25), all relinquished the Supreme Office for the good of the Church. Pope Benedict, for the good of the Church in a “world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” has done the same.
No doubt, hopes are raised that the next pope will approve contraception, abortion, same sex marriage and other such like inanities. It will not happen, because the Lord Jesus has promised that gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. The next pope, regardless of the Continent from which he comes, will teach the perennial truths of faith. As people of faith in unseen realities, we must pray for Pope Benedict XVI and even more for the Conclave that will elect his successor.