Benedict's Act of Humility

Now It's Rome's Turn

The last pope to resign did so more than seven hundred years ago, which is a long time even by church standards. The controversy surrounding Celestine V’s abdication and the succession of Boniface VIII did not recommend the practice to later popes, and while canon law admitted the possibility a pope could resign, there were many who thought that, like those old disputes about what the church can do if a pope becomes a heretic, it was best consigned to ancient history, no longer applicable. This view was confirmed by a very modern theology and even mystique of the papacy that so identified the pope with Christ as to suggest that for him to resign would be to betray Christ. It seems that Pope Paul VI gave some thought to resigning, but a close adviser said that he wouldn’t because “he cannot come down from his cross.” Similar words were applied to Pope John Paul II as the church watched him fade away: “You don’t come down from the cross,” his former secretary said just the other day. It is not surprising, then, that many Catholics were stunned by Pope Benedict XVI’s act: “Can a pope resign?” one of my sisters telephoned to ask me.

There is potentially great significance in Benedict’s action, and it may be that his resignation will be his greatest contribution to ecclesiology. He has so subordinated his person to the office that he could renounce it. His frank admission that he no longer had the strength of mind and body needed for the Petrine ministry not only humanizes the pope himself but helps bring the papacy back within the church, down from what Hans Urs von Balthasar called its “pyramid-like isolation.” All those unique titles that seemed to place the papal office above and beyond all other offices and ministries in the church suddenly have to yield to what their occupants all have in common: a fragile, sinful, and mortal humanity. The pope—and not just this one—loses something of his sacral apartness. He rejoins the rest of us.

Benedict’s action also suggests the thought that if a pope can resign for reasons of health or of age, he might resign for other reasons too. There could come a pope who agrees with what John Henry Newman wrote in 1870, during the longest pontificate in church history: “It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, does cruel things without meaning it.” In other words, even though no term limits may be assigned to the papal office, a pope can have his own term limits in mind, and say to himself, and to the church, “Basta!” If papal resignations were to become something normal (that is, more frequent than every seven hundred years), then there might be less reluctance to elect someone younger and still energetic without worrying that he will fall victim to the tendency Newman feared.

Benedict visited at least twice the basilica where Celestine V is buried and prayed at his tomb. Paul VI had done so beforehand, and I wonder whether Benedict might have remembered his predecessor’s explanation of why Celestine resigned: “After a few months he understood that he was being deceived by people around him who were profiting from his inexperience.” That’s when Celestine’s holiness shone out, Pope Paul said: “As he had accepted the supreme pontificate out of duty, so out of duty he renounced it—not out of cowardice, as Dante wrote (if his words really do refer to him), but out of heroic virtue, out of a sense of duty.” Perhaps Benedict also felt betrayed by people around him and recognized that he was not up to dealing with it.

One didn’t have the impression that Joseph Ratzinger enjoyed being pope. He was the second pope in a row not to take much interest in administration, but whereas John Paul II seemed always on the road, exhibiting the most personalized papacy in church history, Pope Benedict retreated into his study, where he composed not only his official homilies, speeches, and encyclicals, but also three books, which he explicitly exempted from official authority. The result of this approach to the office—call it the two “vacancies” of papal responsibility—has been not only the sort of unedifying spectacle of curial rivalries we saw in the “Vatileaks” scandal, but a return to, and even heightening of, the centralized theory and practice that many had hoped Vatican II would bring to an end. Instead, after modest efforts at institutionalizing the council’s ecclesiology, we have seen over the past forty years the atrophying of structures for co-responsibility and cooperation at every level of church life.

A certain paradox is visible in the events now unfolding. The very act that humanizes the papacy also produces the hullabaloo over the upcoming conclave, which tends to reconfirm the inflated notion of the Petrine office that has developed over the past two hundred and fifty years, and the impression is given, once again, that the future of the church hinges on the choice of a successor to the See of Peter. One can hear it from both sides: from traditionalists who want still-tighter disciplinary control over doctrine, worship, and practice; and from progressives who want a pope who will loosen things up in all those areas. They both want something from Rome; they want the new pope to do something about what they each perceive as critical points. But the church is not the pope, and the pope is not the church, and perhaps what we most need is a pope who will encourage and allow the laity, the religious, the clergy, and the hierarchy to assume their responsibilities for the difference the church is supposed to make in the world. Benedict’s resignation was a self-denying act of personal humility. What we need now in Rome are acts of institutional humility and self-denial. 

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     My take on Brother Ratzinger's resignation is quite different from my Roman classmate's, Brother Komonchak*. The resignation is not some change in the concept of the papacy, but a calculated move to better preserve the conservative values that Brother Ratzinger along with Brother Wojtala have cultivated for so long and astutely.  *1960-1964, North American College, Gregorian U., Vat II- The only reason this bit of trivia is important is that I'm a dissenter on the side of sexualities, married priests, women priests, and in general church governance according to what I understood was the gist of Vat.II ecclesiology. 

This is not a judgment of the man's soul.  It is an acknowledgement of his sincerity and dedication to the mission of the church as he sees it.  But my purpose is to throw out the pastoral challenges that seethe in the souls of many of us who also believe Brother Ratzinger's beliefs are harmful. It is a call to move away from medieval rigidity in dealing with dissent, for the better of the church.  No more silence, no more excommunication, removal from jobs and ministries--to avoid repeating the Galileo stories over and over. I am one of those ordained priests who early on considered that the church needed priests experienced in creating family.  I had faithfully lived as a celibate for 13+ years and gave myself wholly to the service of the church universal.  I followed obediently all of the rules and envisioned the goals set in place for priests.  Vat. II gave me impetus to follow my conscience. When I was volunteering as a new priest from Vermont in the inner city of Boston (1967), it became clear to me that the people there,  abandoned by the church for the suburbs, deserved priests experienced in establishing and nurturing families in the ghetto. I told my bishop I believed that the church needed married priests.  Instead of entering into any discussion, my support for health care and retirement was immediatey withdrawn.  I later requested permission to marry and continue on with my ministry.   The Vatican refused me permission to marry and "laicized" me against my will.  Throw in excommunication.  They acted more quickly and resolutely than with the priest pedophiles.  This approach to pastoral needs was not what I had envisioned in seminary.  To cancel in this manner the whole meaning of the priesthood for a rigid/unspeakable commitment to "Holy Orders" as incompatible with women and sexuality---this to me was the same as the violent, anti-Chrisitian medieval solutions to dissent.  I have continued to faithfully live my marriage for 43 years with 3 children and 3 grandchildren. Recently in the mammoth morass of intrigue around sexual abuse by priests I read explanations about "laicization", that in the '70's Brother Wojtala along with Brother Ratzinger and the curial "experts" questioned our maturity--asking to marry-- and vulnerability to the seductions of sex.  The possibility that committing oneself to solemn marriage would be far more demanding than living celibacy never could enter into any discussion because of who governs the discussions.  To save time I'll just throw in just one more factor in understanding Brother Ratzinger's resignation--homosexuality.  It has become clear to me since 2000 that I have "same-gender orientation" (SGO). I remain in my hetero marriage.  This has now become a personal, deep agony compelling me in my old age to work for change regarding SGO.  The total, deadly silence imposed with the threat of loss of jobs, ministries, excommunications constitutes one of the most crying needs for compassion and openness that we think of when a soul is in torture. What will it take for a 21st century model to handle dissent to come to rescue people like me from suicide, murder, mental illness?  I have proposed a "Galileo Reconciliation Commission" that would work out protocols for accepting a bonafide dissent agenda.  Both or all sides would be free to work on resolutions.  But above all everyone would commit to doing the "least harm", or "no harm" at all.  Under such a commission Brother Ratzinger's compulsion to wipe out homosexuality as one of the greatest evils of our time could not allow him to make his repeated worldwide proclamations.  So Brother Ratzinger and, let us not be fooled, the legions of people who conceive of religion as he does, realizes that now that he and Brother Wojtala have populated the majority of the college of cardinals pretty well, it's better that he move over and do all he can to promote the selection of a pope who will deal with people like me, people whom he accuses of fomenting disunity rather than calling for a reconciliation process.  The persecution will carry on. For a better discussion of my point chec out "Ideological Clone" by John Bingham and Nick Squires   Check my blogsite at LEAST HARM

"we have seen over the past forty years the atrophying of structures for co-responsibility and cooperation at every level of church life." 

 

As one who was truly scandalized (not an easy thing for me) by the election of Benedict, I am certainly glad to see him resign.  It may be that his witnessing of the last years of JP II's papacy has made him realize how destructive such a period can be -- perhaps especially at a time when the Curia is already running roughshod in so many ways. 

Regardless of Benedict's own motives or hopes, I tend to think that his resignation WILL change the perception of the papacy for the better, away from the "absolute monarch" model that we have endured for so long.  That does not mean that I believe Benedict will not try his best to manipulate both the election and whomever emerges as the next pope.  His living on the grounds of the Vatican seems to almost guarantee such an outcome. 

Yet, I wonder why that location was chosen for his retirement.  Is it, perhaps, because the case at the International Criminal Court is heating up?  He will no longer have the immunity of a head of state, but as long as he remains a resident citizen of the Vatican State, he will probably remain out of reach of the long arm of the law.  But who can know, unless and until the Court acts? 

At the outset, I quoted the author of this article:  "we have seen over the past forty years the atrophying of structures for co-responsibility and cooperation at every level of church life." 

My own take on this is that these structures did not ATROPHY.  Rather, they were deliberately, systematically assassinated, in service of the god of centralization.  This was done, as the author alludes, both by John Paul II and by Benedict; by not only by popes, but by bishops (who abolished or eviscerated diocesan pastoral councils), and by pastors who either never created parish councils or similar bodies, or who followed the lead of their bishops and eviscerated them.  I can personally attest to a very large number of talented laypersons who have had experience serving on such bodies, or on other ones (e.g., boards of directors of schools), and who now simply refuse to become involved in such efforts because they were a waste of time.  Their opinions were not considered, their expertise not used (or poorly used).  So why were they there?  Mere window-dressing.  The worst cases of this sort have been those involving respected jurists or attorneys who were misused as chairpersons of committees responsible (they thought) for acting on charges of pedophilia or other sexual misconduct by the clergy.

The notion that bishops, clergy, and laity should assume their rightful responsibilities is a good one; but it seems that it will take a very good long time before the wounds of the past three or four decades are healed.  The generosity and goodwill which followed upon Vatican II will be very, very hard to regain.  One can only hope that there are enough bishops and cardinals around who have felt very hemmed-in, even disrespected, by the goings on of the last two papacies, and are ready for a change.  As long as they realize that the same feelling extends down the line, and do not act like the servant who was forgiven a large debt but refused to forgive a small one, there may yet be hope. 

Maybe there's still another John XXIII hiding out there in plain sight?  If so, let's hope he's elected, and doesn't meet the same fate as John Paul I.  We all have responsibilities to fulfill, but at this juncture, the tone must be set from the top.

The call for change is ramping up already:

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/latest-news/5070

Latest News

Benedict XVI’s centralisation slated

18 February 2013

The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton has called for a review of the "unnecessary" centralisation of power that took place during Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

Bishop Kieran Conry told The Times that over-centralisation had taken power from local bishops and led the Church away from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He said that the new English Mass translation, introduced last year, had a negative impact on Catholics that might have been avoided if power was devolved to a local level.

He said: "There is a need for the Roman Curia, the central administration, to be reviewed. That was not one of Pope Benedict's strengths. It needs reviewing because it is not working very well. There seems to be a degree of centralisation that is not really necessary which might indicate that there is a degree of inefficiency."

The aim [of Vatican II] was that Rome should work more collaboratively with the local bishops. That has not really developed."

AND THERE IS THIS AS WELL:   http://www.churchauthority.org/

In the spirit of full disclosure I am a disgruntled Catholic, nonetheless I love my church, and I am ashamed when I read about the politics in the Vatican. According to news reports, Benedict complained about Vatican rivalries, and fierce power struggles in the Curia contributing to his decision to step down. I know that (some) Catholics still believe the Holy Spirit guides the process of papal elections. I think that's sweet. I guess they just don't read much Church History. I have been watching the Showtime series The Borgias - I know it is historical fiction but it contains, sadly, a lot of history. Watching the political machinations of the Curia in their red, medieval costumes in this show I was amused and sickened by the realization that so little has changed. No, we won't have murders and armed show-downs of Vatican factions in St. Peter's Square, one hopes. But we are already having  - according to Benedict himself - power struggles and in-fighting. And all too soon we will have parades of medieval costumes across the Square.

It is time for visible CHANGE. Change the medieval dress, change the medieval structures. Institute a more democratic style of representational leadership as opposed to appointed leadership.  Set the lifestyle of the clergy in the Vatican around community service, scholarly pursuits, prayer, and monastic living. What a concept. Then it wouldn't be such a stretch to imagine the presence of the Holy Spirit in Rome.

perhaps after this act of "humility" (whatever virtue fits best) we are open to collegiality...nobody is using the word "vicar of Christ" thanks God!  giant advance in terminology within our antiquated "ecclesioloy"....  history of the papacy is not a good blueprint for "progress" in our understanding of the "church to the service of the world"...our excuse to keep the appearances intact is 'continuity'. Of faith and tradition I hope... could be obtained without outmoded paths. 

     These new posts trouble me. They repeat reform calls, intervention of the Holy Spirit, single voices of reform here and there.  It won't happen that way.   My bias comes from having been ordained a priest in Rome in 1963, within the womb of the "mother" church.  This experience was very rich and at the same time very humbling. I experienced the total humanity of the church, its hierarchy and its worldwide membership for 4 years right there in Rome.  Curia politics, hierarchical politics.  This has given me the analysis I wrote about last night.  

     I still feel that Brother Ratzinger is deliberately doing what he sees as the best way to ensure his conservative, centralized view of catholicism will continue to hold sway.  He doesn't need to do any more active promotion as he basks in the glow of admiration. When I read the comments above I'm struck by the various attitudes that somehow the church can be reformed now that the latest leader--don't forget "blessed" Brother Wojtala either--of conservatism is moving on.  

     Yes I witnessed the transformation --short lived--of the church under Brother Roncalli.  But for the last 50 years the conservatives have expertly and stiffly held sway so that Brother Roncalli's changes have been twisted and stopped.  Those of us who want so badly a series of reforms that would change the church from top to bottom have to realize that we have no power in the church of today.  The mechanisms are not available now as Michael Cassidy has detailed above with which to pressure for a chance to make reforms. Pastoral Councils have been eviscerated. We cannot change via the old way, having babies who become radical catholics with a vocation of celibacy and make it to the hierarchy.  

     It will take conscience driven, non-violent, loving pressure forcing the other side to respect our consciences as we respect theirs.  We need to "force" a stoppage of medieval methods for control--firings, silence, threats of excommunication, etc. etc.  It is a fact that we radicals have not been able to rise up in sufficient numbers and with sufficient perseverance to begin the changes.  Many, probably most of us, feel it isn't worth the bother. Many think time is what will bring change. Some think we might as well join a church that fits us better.  But for me as a same-gender-oriented person with a special knowledge of this church and the horrors it causes to the LGBT people, I feel we have to organize.  Insist on having a Galileo Reconciliation Commission that will stop persecution.  Do this by having a majority in the pews that is organized and ready to push unrelentingly for this type of change in the church. Give Brother Roncalli something to be proud of!

You are right of course Thomas, the trappings of the Middle Ages are a mere symptom of an internal dysfunction, dis-ease even, that a new procedure for electing a pope won't cure. The problem is that good, educated, spiritual Catholics like you and me who have been devoted to the church and then rejected by the same church are left feeling marginalized and, excuse the term, castrated - it is more powerful a word than impotent. I was a theology teacher for 27 years, BD, MRE, I was good. Then Boston 2002 then going public with my abuse history, then Cardinal George ignoring his own review board and his own Guidelines... and I was done with the hierarchy. I couldn't sign a contract supporting my bishop any more. But I still think there is so much worth saving in our Church. If only we could get back to bishops and parishes and national synods. There should never ever be a situation  where a clergyman is rewarded with property and income by the pope, especially one who is under a cloud of scandal like Cardinal Law. No pope should have that power. The Curia should not be a permanent Roman body. Should Catholics like us just break from Rome and join the schismatic Catholic Churches? Is there just simply too much to change?

 

I'm a non-cradle Catholic who's been faithfully attending mass for 13 months, and I am currently 1/3 of the way through an adult confirmation program. I think that there is much to be said for relatively unchanging conservatism in Church organization, dogma, doctrine, and liturgy.

When Paul left the church he established in Corinth, it was not long before there were squabbles between 4 distinct sects which had quickly emerged in what was initially a united church.  In my own particular birth sect of Christianity (Apostolic Finnish Lutheranism), a bewildering array of distinct sects also emerged in short order, i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Family_tree_of_laestadianism_in_Americ...

Individual Catholics are free to have their own individual beliefs.  Everyone is welcome at mass (as long as they don't steal the host for Satanic ritual, I'm told). I keep my heart open to all Church teachings, some of which enter and remain in my heart, others have not yet done so and perhaps never will.

Within obvious limitations, it is possible, at least in a large metropolitan area, to find a parish with doctrinal emphasis with which one can be comfortable. I think it's wonderful, however, that, whereever I travel, there's a church with a familiar liturgy and dogma and doctrines that I understand and expect, even if all do not speak with clarity to my heart.

The Catholic Church has been the innkeeper of Christianity, and it's done a pretty decent job of it -- the clergy abuse horrors being the recent exception, from which the Church will hopefully recover and truly reform.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Oh my Larry, I don't think those of us who have been disappointed, betrayed, and disrespected by the church's leadership in the 50 years since Vatican II can even begin to know how to repspond to your comments.

I will simply say that I believe that Benedict is doing an admirable (probably not humble) thing by resigning. I would bet that not the least of his reasons concerns his watching John Paul II waste away, not able to govern but unable to bring himself to let go of power. I think Benedict is clear that it was harmful for the church. In particular it allowed the Curia fairly free reign to do what political animals do best; run roughsod over the powerless.

 

Lynn, I wonder if you even understand what it is to be a Catholic?   The last thing an informed Catholic would be doing is giving Larry the "Oh my" comment.  I hope you don't mind that I would love to "begin to respond", albeit to you and others alike.

For starters, do you even understand that the "end game" so to speak of Catholicm is two-fold:  to save your own soul, as well as be the light of Christ to others and hopefully facilitate in their salvation. 

 For goodness sakes, a mature adult just announced by his own free will he is entering into the Catholic Faith.  That's extraordinary!  We are his brothers and sisters in Christ, and upon hearing that good news, you choose to diss the Catholic Church, which in essense, is Jesus Christ.

Lynn if you and others feel disappointed, betrayed, and disrespected, it's by your own ignorance, and hopefully, not willful.  It's time to be an adult, learn the faith, and finally get your aha moment that it's not about what you or the culture wants but what Christ wants.  No one ever said Catholicism is easy, only worth it.  The sooner you learn it's not about power, be it pope or "women priest", the sooner you can begin an authentic Catholic Faith. 

The fact that you can't even see the absurity in Pope Benedict thinking PJII ' "wasted away" while clinging to power clearly indicates you don't have a clue about what JPII was really teaching, redemptive suffering with Christ, one of the hallmarks of his papacy.   

You also appear clueless to the fact the both JPII and Benedict XVI, both of whom were at Vatican II, spent the crux of the papacies trying to "right" Vatican II from the "Do it my way errors," and both with much success.  Do you even know how many Anglicans entered the CC under Pope Benedict?  Not to mention, the "married priests" that he also allowed. 

Lastly, are there betrayal problems within the church.  Of course, but they have been there since the time of Christ, who still, at least percentage-wise,  holds the greatest amount of betrayal.  If you haven't yet figure out that real enemies attack within perhaps now would be a good time to realize that fact along with the fact that the church has been under attack from day one, and always will be.

Isn't it time the "disappointed, betrayed, and disrespected" CINO's either learn the faith or move on, especially when it comes to the expense of new comers like Larry who has a lot to teach all of us. 

The only thing that matters, that ever will matter, is the salvation of our souls.

 

 

The “essence” of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. An excellent point, Patricia. This should indeed be an aha moment this morning, for this is something upon which we all on this comment stream could surely agree.

The question then remains, of what does that essence consist? Is the essence of Jesus’ teaching the saving of one’s soul? I don’t remember that in the Gospels. I remember more about challenging those in religious power to act with justice; challenging those with means to share their means with the poor. I remember more about the acceptance of the anawim, the socially untouchable, the ritually unclean, the morally (to them) repugnant.

On another issue, Jesus’ suffering was that of an innocent man; the attacks on the Church and the suffering of Church leaders is not a sign of innocence. The attacks on the Church concerning their protection of rapists and molesters and their treatment of victims are indeed merited. As for Church leaders, Cardinal Roger Mahony writes on his blog about the suffering of Jesus and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Such a thinly veiled comparison to his own most deserved suffering is crass.

Hi Mona:

You asked:  The question then remains, of what does that essence consist?

It's actually very simple, as Jesus Christ revealed it, consequently, it's the Dogmas of the Catholic Faith, all that HE taught, including Sacred Tradition:  teachings on  the Real Presence of the Eucharist, marriage, abortion, the priesthood, the 7 sacraments, to name a few. 

Doctrines of course are man made and change as necessary with time and culture. 

Mona are you actually suggesting that the essence of Jesus Christ was anything other than eternal salvation?  Sure, He taught us the importance of love, but not love outside of His obedience, as no authentic love can possibly exists outside of Truth, Truth of course, being God and only God.

I understand that everyone is on a different place in the spiritual journey, consequently, everyone may not be able to immediately accept all truths.  There is a big difference between having a heart open for all Truth, and denouncing what we have not yet been given the faith to accept or believe, especially because "our opinion"  disagrees with what Christ revealed to us.

FWIW, I've been there.  Only to learn the hard way that it was my lifestyle that didn't believe.  Had I lived as the Church teaches, I would have avoided a lot of the self-inflicted pain in my life.  Thankfully, God has an abundance of mercy.

 

I'm not yet an "official" Catholic, and I am entirely unqualified to tell any Catholic how they should feel about anything relating to Cathollcism. That said,

I'm trying to understand Lynn's statement about being "disappointed, betrayed, and disrespected by the church's leadership." I don't see how that statement could possibly apply to any of the non-Religious laiety (NRL). As far as I can tell, the Church leaves us NRL pretty much alone, to think our own thoughts, live our own lives, and do our own things.  I haven't missed a weekly (or other obligatory) mass, since I began this particular journey 13 months ago, and I have yet to hear, in a homily, even veiled criticism (applied to us parishioners) of contraception, pre-marital co-habitation, homosexuality, or even same gender marriage.  I suppose that these topics are occasionally broached, at least in some parishes and/or by some priests or bishops, but there are certainly a great many parishes where non-Religious laiety guilty of such sins may be members in ostensibly good standing, limited only by the dictates of their own consciences, and subject to little, if any, direct rebuke.

The Catholics who might feel that they have a beef would be those in religious orders, who felt called to vocation in the 1960s, by what they perceived as the paradigm-shifting promise of Vatican 2. Without going into obvious detail, I can understand why such people might feel a sense of betrayal.  It's a hard thing, indeed, to labor for decades, doing what one felt called to do and not only to be unappreciated by one's hierarchal superiors, but to be actively disrespected and criticized by the same.

It would be beyond presumptuous of me to offer advice to such sisters and priests and brothers, but Chapter 6 of Matthew admonishes not to overvalue attention and rewards from other people, but to rejoice in the knowlege that you are privately pleasing God. And, surely, such sisters and priests and brothers, who devote their lives in selfless service, must be aware at how much their work continues to be valued by so many outside the Magisterial hierarchy.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

It seems odd to me that Komonchak would say Benedict "retreated" into his study. Consider his travel scheule over the last eight years: Germany (2005), Poland, Spain, Germany, Turkey (2006), Brazil, Austria, (2007), US, Australia, France (2008), Cameroon, Angola, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Czech Republic (2009), Malta, Portugal, Cyprus, UK, Spain (2010), Coatia San Marino, Spain, Germany, Benin (20011), Mexico and Cuba, Lebanon (2012). That's way more travel than my 80 year old grandmother ever did. Not to mention his numerous public appearances. Not as much overall travel as JP2, but he wasn't pope for as long either.

 

Let's face it, we don't really know why Benedict XVI resigned. Even his parting speech(es) is/are couched in such vague language. The one thing I hung my hat on was he declared he acted after prayer and examining his own conscience. That to me is the crucial message. His words and subsequent action restored the individual conscience to its primacy. People must not be forced to act contrary to their conscience. Nor must they be prevented from acting according to their conscience, especially in religious matters. All the bluster by dictatorial cardinals, archbishops, bishops, monsignori, priests to invade or weaken a person's most sacred core has been existentially exposed as bluff. Nothing graced Benedict's papacy more than his leaving of it.

Prayer and an examination of conscience certainly seems a more certain path to the truth than following the dubious advice of Curial "politicians." This may indeed be a moment of grace in his papacy. But I have to wonder if he could not have had a greater impact if he had remained in office and made some real changes by dismantling the Curia and removing the medieval trappings and imperial structure from the Vatican in favor of a more collegial, regional patriarchate system, perhaps.

Patricia, The essence of Jesus Christ is Love.

Yes Ronald, a 'Love" so great Jesus established the Catholic Church for the salvation of all men.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.