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Should we still call Ratzinger "pope" after February?

Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., is known as a Catholic culture warrior to many but he is also a Rome-trained canon lawyer. In a memo that Pia de Solenni passes along, with his nihil obstat, Paprocki gives his opinion on a number of interesting issues stemming from Pope Benedict XVI's unusual resignation -- one of his views being that the talk of "abdication" is silly and the best and proper word is "resignation." (Guess the bishop just doesn't "get" religion, eh tmatt?)(The bishop also shows himself to be in the dynamic equivalency rather than literal translation camp -- at least on this issue.)More intriguing, however, is his note that the word "pope" actually does not appear in canon law, and that Benedict never used it in his resignation address. Cool. But the lesson Paprocki draws from this may be a matter of debate -- that since it is a title, Benedict, even when he becomes Joseph Ratzinger on Feb. 28, should still be called "pope" and addressed as "Your Holiness." He writes:

How then are we to understand the word Pope? It is an honorific, even a term of endearment (Papa in Italian). It is not the title of an ecclesiastical office. We make this distinction all the time. We still call a priest by the honorific Father even after he has resigned from the office of Pastor. Having lived in Italy for three and a half years when I was studying canon law, and having a sense of the culture, I have a feeling the Italians will continue to call Pope BenedictPapa Benedetto even after he leaves office as the Bishop of Rome. So I dont think people will have a hard time wrapping their minds around having a Pope who is no longer the Roman Pontiff, Bishop of Rome, etc. Certainly, in direct address, one would never address him as anything but, Your Holiness.

Interesting, but to me a recipe for confusion, and maybe worse. And not necessary. Thoughts?

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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The world is full of "formers." More than one insurance or car salesman has his former military title (usually "Lt. Col [Ret]") on his business cards. (I say "his" because I haven't run across any women who do this.)Then there are all of those former politicos who are called whatever they were no matter how long ago they were. The US is full of royalists who don't admit it. We may as well call J. Ratzinger "Pope (Ret)" as well. But I won't buy a car or a term insurance policy from him, either.

I should think that any self-aware human being would draw back in shame and fear at the mere thought of being addressed as "Your Holiness."

We refer to John Paul II as Pope John Paul II, and he's not even alive. So, I would think we would still refer to Pope Benedict as Pope Benedict after he retires. It would only get confusing if the next guy picks the name "Benedict" too.

How about ex-Benedict?

He should be called Joseph (Joe if he prefers), just as he should be addressed when he is serving as bishop of Rome. That is the name his parents gave him. He is, after all, the servant of all the church. If we would all address our bishops so, it might force them (and us) to recognize that we are all the church.

There's a theological question here, too. We teach that orders effects an ontological change in the ordinand. Once a priest, always a priest. But the papacy carries no such ontological mojo. We'd be clearer about out theology of orders if we called him Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.

How about Bishop or Archbishop Ratzinger? He said he renounced all governance, and a cardinal has some governing powers even over 80, I believe.

How about asking him? Ask him while he's still pope so his word still carries weight...

The EX? If priests are priests forever then is Fr. Roy Bourgeois still a priest?The pope prepares for retirement ...

My husband's name is Joe and our grandchildren call him "Papa Joe". For our retiring pope I think such a moniker would fit, both as a recognition of his baptismal name and his soon-to -be previous office as Pope (Papa). I don't make this as a snarky suggestion. I think it would be both an appropriate and endearing name, though I suspect it may not be to the liking of such a formal and introverted man. Too bad, if that is the case.

"What's in a name? That which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet."- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)Poor Joseph just may have a difficult time adjusting to the idea of not being omnipotent and infallible anymore.Unless B16's successor is already all but chosen and part of the deal is that he accept Ratzinger living-in-the-Vatican-cloister, this is one more reason why I think the next pope may have a different ideas about the wisdom of keeping Joseph around where he can continue to opine about papal decisions.

In The Ethics of Memory, Avishai Margalit develops cogent arguments for why memory of people ought to be as specific as possible, including a name. When we meet a person, memory is invoked, including, if w ehave it, memory of what we call the subject. If I were he, Father Joseph would probably be my preference. It is entirely respectful, and it is accurate at several levels. But I am not he, and for several reasons, I think it is best for each person to express his name as he wishes. The common respect we have for our elders should, it seems to me, dictate that they determine how they hope to be addressed. It should be a simple thing for us to acknowledge them as individuals in that way.

O, the temptation for me to be snarky here...but I'll refrain.For now :-)

Helen --Groan :-)

Ann OlivierYes, ex-Benedict is the latest special on brunch menus.

We refer to ex-presidents as President Clinton, President Bush, etc.. So why not, "Pope Benedict"? And why not, "Your Holiness"? At least unless he himself asks for some other way of referring to/addressing him.

Having lunch with the man who used to be Pope Benedict and with the new pope: "Your Holinesses, would you like more dessert?"

Claire: Those who address others as "Your Holiness," or "Your Majesty," etc. avoid the use of the blunter "you" or "your," so it would be better to ask the popes individually, "Would Your Holiness like dessert?" (Never use "more" in offering food. That makes the eater sound greedy.)(Do servants in Italy ask diners if they want something, or do they just offer it, waiting for a hand gesture to accept the offering or wave it off?)

I read in La Stampa that the current talk in Rome is that he will be called "Bishop Emeritus of Rome," which is I think the best possible choice. Emeritus connotes completion of service, and it also fits for a professor.

I like that Terry Mattingly can't be bothered to correct his egregiously incorrect post. The non-Catholics over at Get Religion sure do love pronouncing on Catholicism, don't they?

If Get Religion admits it is wrong, as it so often is, that would undermine tmatt's aura of infallibility. And nothing non-Catholics like more than infallibility.

That is pretty remarkable. When you're in the business of giving out advice on how to Get Things Right, you really ought to demonstrate some interest in getting things right yourself. Otherwise, why should anyone ever trust you?

Deep in my heart, I honestly feel that even though Pope Benedict XVI has resigned the papacy, he should not lose the God-given grace of his title as the Holy Father that was bestowed upon him when he was elected as pope in 2005. This grace from God, through the Holy Spirit, is his indelible mark that's meant to last forever! To me, his title as Holy Father should never be removed from him just because he resigned due to his weakened strength at age 85, which is no fault of his own. Whether he's living or dead, it's right, fair, and proper to call him Pope or Papa and Holy Father or Santo Papa.I know that its customary to destroy the papal ring of a pope when he dies, but Pope Benedict XVI's case is different. He's not dead. When it comes to his papal ring, it should only be destroyed when he dies because he always remains a pope in the eyes of God and His people: the Church, for the grace that he received from Him upon his election as pope. His election as Pope John Paul IIs successor was inspired by the Holy Spirit, not by man, so it should be left to the Holy Spirit to decide. May the Holy Spirit guide the conclave and the new pope to make the right decision on what to do with Pope Benedict XVI's papal ring and title as pope. Even though he has already resigned, he should not be ripped of his papal ring and title as pope or Holy Father! He should be allowed TO KEEP HIS PAPAL RING and RETAIN HIS HONORARY TITLE that he held before resignation or retirement and should be called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He should be addressed as His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Holy Father Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. God bless him always.

How 'bout sua sanctitas emerita?

Hi, Inday!I don't know how humans can know what actions by other humans impress indelible marks on one another's souls. We're taught that baptism makes an indelible mark: so why can't a pope who has stepped off the throne be called by the name he received in that sacrament? And we're taught that confirmation makes an indelible mark: so why can't a pope who has retired be called by the name he was given in that sacrament? Ordination, we're told, makes an indelible mark: is a priest given a new name in that sacrament? (Where are we taught that being elected to the papacy carries an indelible mark with it?)Jesus said, Call no man father. Should we disobey that clear command? As to the ring, the symbol of a pope's authority? I don't think it will be "ripped" from Joseph before it is ground to powder. Surely he will gladly surrender it. Maybe the gold dust that results from the grinding will be sold to benefit the homeless. (Or commingled with the gold used to cast the next Ring of the Fisherman.)

When Pope Benedict's resignation (renunciation) becomes effective he will return to being Rev. Father Joseph Ratzinger, Bishop of Rome, retired (emeritus). He won't any longer be able to teaching infallibly (and did not, in fact, do so while he occupied the office). I doubt very much that he will ever say anything publicly after the resignation and will certainly not offer opinions of anything his successor says or does. However, there will be a huge number of individuals who, for a while at least, will pronounce themselves as knowing the mind of the former Pope as they offer their opinions of the new one. Pope Benedict is acutely aware, I believe, that what he is doing will establish precedent for all future Popes for whom resignation will now be an exercisable option for whatever reason. I think he will largely not be heard from again, other perhaps than to wish the Church a Happy Easter or a Blessed Christmas from time to time. We should all be prepared to just leave the good man alone so that he can prepare for his passing from this world. Thank you, Lord, for this man's gifts to the Church.

Curious how the title of the pope is pointed out (rightly) to be non-ontological, but almost in the same breath people want to call him Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal isn't ontological either. The real problem is not what we call them, but whether they are relevant anymore to the Catholic people as a whole.

Why does it matter so much to so many people what Ratzinger will be called? It's as if they have some superstitious belief that religious symbols, especially titles, have magical powers, and so we shouldn't mess with them.

Grant Gallicho/David Gibson:Gosh, are non-Catholics not permitted to comment here, or even elsewhere? I wish someone had told me before I subscribed. As a newcomer here, I do not understand your explicit references above. It may very well be that what "the non-Catholics at Get Religion" have written are wrong, but is that because they are non-Catholics or simply because they erred? I trust that if we try to provide thoughtful comments, responses will be to the substance of the comments and not to one's religious affiliation. Surely the traditions of the community of Commonweal and the thouhtful peopel who write an dcomment here can manage the occassional thought from a non-Catholic?

I'm sure the Romans will call Benedict Papa Benedetto. The rest of us will call him Benedict. I doubt His Holiness gives a damn what we call him.

Ann: "Its as if they have some superstitious belief that religious symbols, especially titles, have magical powers, and so we shouldnt mess with them."Exactly the problem.Mark Logsdon: Welcome! As you are new here, perhaps context is needed. Get Religion is a conservative site run by an activist and columnist named Terry Mattingly. He is not Catholic, but sets himself up as someone who schools not only the media but Catholics (and others) with whom he disagrees. Obviously anyone can comment here or there on things Catholic, but when you set yourself up as the judge of all, and tell believers of other faiths why they are wrong -- and yet you yourself are wrong, as he often is -- then yes, you deserve to be corrected. He is considered something of a joke, but once in a while it is necessary to correct misinformation. Cheers.

David Gibson: Thanks for your welcome. I am a recent subscriber, perhaps not so new to Commonweal as it seems. My father (I am 64 years old) subscribed to Commonweal, among many other sources of information and analysis. I linked to Commonweal via Sullydish, and decided, as I did with the Dish, that I ought to pay my freight. That an academic should be pedantic and factually wrong on some range of matters is among the least surprising things we could find, I should think. Except perhaps for triumphalist versions of received religion; the combination is notably off-putting. I agree - of course - that correcting misinformation may be necessary for progress in debates, but would not Get Religion be the place to challenge his misinformation? In any event, if the error is Terry Mattingly's, then the issue is with him, rather than with non-Catholics.Onward.

Mark, yes, I think we agree -- the issue is with Mattingly rather than with all non-Catholic critics, certainly.In any event, you seem like an omnivore when it comes to reading material. All to the good, I think.

tmatt is quick to cut off comments that aren't dedicated to the way matters are reported ... unless he agrees with tangential comments, and then they can drone on incessantly.

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