Assessing Benedict’s Resignation: The Questions That Remain| National Catholic Register

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NEWS ANALYSIS: With similar papal resignations possible in the future, the Church will need to persist in addressing the unresolved issues related to his 2013 decision to step down as pope.

This picture taken on December 25, 2012 shows Pope Benedict XVI arriving to deliver his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013 announced he will resign on February 28.
This picture taken on December 25, 2012 shows Pope Benedict XVI arriving to deliver his traditional Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013 announced he will resign on February 28. (photo: Vicenzo Pinto / AFP/Getty)

Joan Frawley Desmond VaticanJanuary 6, 2023

Close to a decade after Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication from the Chair of Peter, shocking a gathering of the College of Cardinals into silence and even tears, the Catholic Church continues to grapple with a slew of unresolved questions provoked by his almost unprecedented decision.

Why, exactly, did he resign? Was he right to retain the vestiges of the papacy? Will the pope emeritus’ life in retirement, until he died on Dec. 31, become a model for his successors who also resign their office? For a Church that thinks in centuries, is it too soon to weigh this groundbreaking “modern precedent”?

At the time of his abdication, Benedict clearly stated that his failing health and capacities were the primary reasons for his decision.

“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,” he stated in Latin, the official language for Vatican proclamations, during the Feb. 11, 2013, consistory where the announcement was likened to a sudden clap of thunder. 

In his final official statement as pope, before a general audience on Feb. 27, 2013, he assured the tens of thousands of people gathered to hear him speak that even though he was stepping back from official duties, he would remain deeply connected to the See of St. Peter, changed forever by his election eight years earlier.

“The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’ — there can no longer be a return to the private sphere,” he told the crowd. “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.” Added Benedict, “I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the Crucified Lord.” 

At the time, exactly what this would mean in terms of his specific status and his relationship with the pope who would succeed him wasn’t clear — ambiguities that disturbed more than a few Catholics, including even some of Benedict’s most ardent admirers. 

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Assessing Benedict’s Resignation: The Questions That Remain| National Catholic Register

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