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Terra incognita: What are the known unknowns?

My mind has been racing all day about the papal resignation, and virtually every thought has been a question. As many seasoned observers have already noted, the Catholic Church is about to enter uncharted territory. Relatively few details of what comes next are known, and I'd like to open a thread here to discuss the "known unknowns." What specific questions do we have about what comes next? And when possible, perhaps our many brilliant contributors and commenters can offer informed responses.For example: What will we call him? Will he have roughly equivalent security to what he has now? Will he preside at Masses open to the public? Will he be able to leave his dwelling in any normal way, or will every movement be charted as it is now?Of all the musings I've had, for me the biggest question has been: after February 28, where physically will Pope Benedict -- excuse me, I mean Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger -- reside? And how will his physical presence affect those around him?The official statement tells us the basics:

Pope Benedict XVI will move to the Papal residence in Castel Gandolfo when his resignation shall become effective. When renovation work on the monastery of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican is complete, the Holy Father will move there for a period of prayer and reflection.

One report calls this news "somewhat unexciting," but I disagree.Of the two-part plan, the initial move to the Papal retreat makes perfect sense. It's hard to think of anywhere else he could go immediately upon stepping down from Peter's Chair. But I wonder whether, once there, he will consider staying put at Castel Gandolfo. (I hear it's pretty nice there.) If he is stepping down for the good of the Church -- and I believe he is -- it seems like the best thing for his successor would be not to have Cardinal Ratzinger living at the Vatican.Even in lower-level cases of pastoral transition, it is typical for the departing pastor to leave the rectory and take up residence elsewhere. Isn't that correct? And in those cases, there is not such auctoritas at stake on the part of the former pastor.On the other side of things, one wonders if the nuns residing at Mater Ecclesiae were consulted about this decision. How will the moving-in of a former Pope affect their lives of ora et labora? I suppose if he remains truly cloistered, like them, the outside world might never find out.What other questions do we have about this unexplored territory?

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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I don't see why he would stay at Castel Gandolfo after his successor is elected. That is the pope's vacation residence, not a retirement home for a former pope. As for his permanent retirement to Mater Ecclesiae Monastery? It will be easily secured, and if he has been diagnosed with a health issue, he will be close to his doctors. If the nuns don't like it, let them lump it. Why would they not be delighted to care for him in his final days/years? What will he be called? He will be called Pope Benedict XVI. He will be addressed as Your Holiness. Just as a former president is still called President Smith and addressed as Mr. President.

Question: All the talk of the next pope coming from Africa or Latin America overlooks the desire many Italian cardinals might have to bring "home" the papacy. How many Italian cardinals are there?

I wonder if his residing in the Vatican might also be a question of security arrangements. That's the only good reason I can think of for his staying there.

I believe that every diocese in the world has to figure out what to do with retired bishops. The Diocese of Rome shouldn't be any different. Where do Vatican careerists live after they retire - those cardinals and monsignors whose entire careers are spent in Rome? Are they all sent back home, wherever that may be? Is there such a thing as assisted living or a nursing home for them in Rome?

When considering candidates for the papacy, a sine qua non is (very) good Italian. Some of the non-Italian names being floated in the press pass the test, some do not. The latter are just non-starters.

I have a friend who retired as a Methodist minister. According to their church polity, he was not permitted to attend or officiate in any way, shape or form at his former parish for 3 years! That was to ensure a clean break from any chance of interference in the role and activities of his successory.Sounds sensible to me, even though 3 years was a long time.BTW, my friend spent the next 3 years attentinding and singing in the choir of the local Catholic church (his wife chose to remain at the Methodist church). The Catholic pastor has gotten permission from the then-Archbishop of Portland (Levada) for my friend to receive communion. Once Levada left, his successor withdrew said permission, so my friend withdrew his participation. Ritual purity: 1; Christian charity: 0.

If you ever had experienced how a retired pastor or Archbishop is ignored it, I would say by many because 'by all' is not liturgically correct anymore (-: .... )-: will be easy to forecast what his post Pope effect will have..

When considering candidates for the papacy, a sine qua non is (very) good Italian.What other qualities should a good candidate possess? I would say: - an unsullied record on the sexual abuse scandal (to be acceptable to us.)- at ease with journalists and with broad instant communication beyond targeted audiences. (to avoid embarrassing faux pas)- unites rather than divides, reconciles rather than rejects, attracts rather than offputs: a diplomat more than a culture warrior, towards the center of worldwide sensibilities rather than off to one extreme.- looking ahead at changing demographics, someone with some experience of the Catholic church in the Third World. - considering governments and other religions and focusing on the ones that will matter the most in the near future, someone with experience dealing with China and/or with Islam.

Random question: can he be re-elected?

There are five threads on the same subjects. It is overkill.

One thing we can be sure of that the next pope won't pull a Gomez and relief Ratzinger of all his duties.

Are we witnessing a return to the early Peritus at the Council? Did Ratzinger finally find himself as his life nears its end. Did he realize that perhaps he should have resisted the monarchical church for a church that was more living as he indicated in his earlier writings? That the Spirit is more important than the trappings of Rome?

If you are going to demote him, why stop at cardinal? Why not go all the way to Father Ratzinger or even Mr. Ratzinger?Benedict is, and always will be, a Pope, just as those who die in office remain with the title of Pope. Just as Barack Obama, once he leaves office, will remain President Obama, and not Senator Obama.He is resigning the Petrine ministry, but he cannot resign from what he is, and a pope is what someone is as much as what someone does. Even if he will no longer be doing the pope, he will forever be a pope.

I think it is totally cool he is going to live with a group of women. I also get why he wants to live in Rome. (Where he was going to live was my big question, too. Someone once told me a lot of retired priests go to Malta,)And to tell you straight up, I would like to see a nice liberal Italian pope; there were two in my lifetime and they seemed alright.

So, two things. First, it is true that the media frequently refer to former presidents as "President X" and they are addressed as "Mr. President," but that's not actually right. As former officeholders they become "The Hon. George W. Bush" or "Mr. Clinton." Second, it seems to me that the Pope's episcopal ordination has an indelible character. I can't see how his creation as cardinal (pastor of a Roman church) or his election as pope (named to a metropolitan see) would. I would love to hear a knowledgeable discussion of that, though. For example, he won't be a territorial bishop any longer. Must he be named to a lapsed see? So many good questions.

Bishop emeritus of Rome? Retired bishops of dioceses aren't given a titular see. So, for example, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, archbishop emeritus of Cincinnati.

Steven, you're right about former presidents. about the incorrect information I posted earlier today.)

The Guardian says in the 2:29 comment:"A spokesman told me that at 8pm on 28 February, when he resigns, Pope Benedict will revert to his pre-pope title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He will no longer be addressed as "his holiness"."

I agree with Steven P Millies: I'd think it would be the current officeholder who is entitled, not only to the honorifics due the Holy Father, but also the authority. Every formal and informal measure should be taken to deflect the notion that the retired Holy Father possesses any of the pope's authority.

Bender: You wrote: "He is resigning the Petrine ministry, but he cannot resign from what he is, and a pope is what someone is as much as what someone does."I don't agree with this. Election as Bishop of Rome does not effect an "ontological" change in the person elected. To be a pope is to occupy an office, with duties and rights. To resign that office is to cease to have those rights and duties. That is the whole of it. There is no sacrament of the papacy, and so no indelible character. Certainly, it will always be true that Joseph Ratzinger was once Pope Benedict XVI, but to be the latter is precisely what he is deciding to cease to be.

"Question: All the talk of the next pope coming from Africa or Latin America overlooks the desire many Italian cardinals might have to bring home the papacy. How many Italian cardinals are there?"Margaret: this news article from last November, around the time of the most recent consistory, gives some rough numbers for how the College of Cardinals breaks down geographically. Headline: "By the numbers: Consistory to expand variety in College of Cardinals". the time of this article, that most recent consistory brought the number of eligible electors up to a nice, round 120. Perhaps not coincidentally, these most recent additions to the College diluted the European majority from 55% to 51%. I saw a number earlier today that, as of the moment of the Holy Father's resignation, there will be 117 eligible electors, presumably because of some birthdays and/or deaths between then and now. Whether that marginal change increases or diminishes (or even turns into a plurality) Europe's majority, I'm not sure.One of the items for which the Holy Father has been criticized has been the slowness with which he has filled empty bishops' chairs. One thing I'd like to see from our new Holy Father, whoever he may be, is to fill empty seats with more alacrity; and perhaps even more so, to rectify the geographic imbalance in the College of Cardinals. If taking away red hats from some traditional developed-world sees is thought to be too offensive (although it seems to have happened to St. Louis and, possibly, Detroit), then let's add many more to places that are experiencing vibrancy and growth.

I wonder if the question of where B16 lives must take into any considerations of protecting him diplomatically and legally from the reach of governments?Ratzinger's papacy has been very troubled by financial irregularities at the Vatican Bank and, of course, the child abuse scandal. Is it possible that he just concluded that he could no longer protect the church and himself, so he just decided to pack it in? As long as he stays put in the Vatican [a la Bernard Law] he will be effectively immune from Italian courts and the International Tribunal at the Hague.

I wonder if, as a cost-saving measure, it would be possible to try to pick the next pope to have approximately the same build as Pope Benedict, so that his clothes can be recycles with minor adjustments.


What will Ratzinger's funeral be like? More modest than if he had died in office?Also, what about all those John Paul II boosters who spoke about JP2's "white martyrdom", refusing to resign while obviously dying and incapacitated? Are they disappointed in Benedict's decision? How can they claim Benedict is being responsible and selfless while they hold up John Paul II's last years as a model?

Brian ==I'm not sure the Pope is being selfless. Maybe he is just being truthful -- he is physically unable to continue.I have thought that in the last few months he has looked extremely weak. As a very old person myself I know that it is quite possible to feel extremely weak while looking healthy. My six doctors regularly tell me "You look good", but then I tell them the fact -- when your muscles don't work any more youe are in fact the equivalent of sick even if you have no serious health problems. He looks even more frail than I feel. So this has not been a surprise to me. I was also quite concerned about Hillary Clinton, though she is not nearly as old. Both of them had gruelling jobs that would tax even a young person.

Ann, my dad also says that he is slower and that just doing the basic things to get through the routine of each day take a lot more time than they used to. What I wonder is: is this physical slowing down accompanied by a corresponding slowing down of the brain? I asked him once, and he said that it doesn't seem so, at least so far. Pope Benedict also seems to continue to think remarkably straight, although we don't know if it takes him more time than before.

Ann O.,Thank you for your comments. Great point about aging versus illness. I wish him a peaceful and happy retirement.I wasn't surprised to hear that B16 was retiring but I was surprised to hear how abruptly he'll be leaving: 17 days notice. I'm amused at how relieved some traditional/conservative Catholics were when he was elected and when he chose a traditional papal name for himself, enough of this Council pope names novelty (JP, JP2). Then their champion ends up doing something that was shocking when Celestine V did it 700 years ago: resign in the face of responsibilities he could not/no longer carry out. In other words, revealing the office to be practical, not ontological. Truly a thunderous new development.

Claire --To answer you off-topic but but very important question for all of us: when people get very old it is normal that the brain doesn't work quite so quickly as before. But that is not the same thing as a loss of a function, such as loss of the executive function (which figures out how to do things) or the function of remembering thing, as happen in dementias of various sorts. I recommend an occasional trip to a neurologist for old people. I went to one because of a bad case of shingles, but she has also been of great help to me about my inevitably aging brain.

P. S. Old people also don't learn as quickly as young ones, but that doesn't mean we can't learn new things at all.

I don't find it the least bit surprising, let alone shocking, that a man of eighty-five would choose to relinquish a high-visibility, high-pressure job as the spiritual leader of a billion or so often quarrelsome religious adherents, to say nothing of in-house conflicts and frustrations, and would wish to devote his remaining time to solitude and prayer. I wish him well.As for what comes next, I don't know enough about the people or the process to have an informed opinion about the upcoming election. But I don't expect much to change, whoever the next pope is. But who knows? Maybe I will be happily surprised, as I once was for a short time many years ago.

I would like them to figure out a way to include women in the election for pope. It doesn't seem like it should be such a heavy lift to so that.

the list of frontrunners is dispiriting. Ratzinger's succession management ensures more of the same.

Um. So far no one has mentioned how Pope Benedict's resignation has suddenly brought us to the end of St. Malachy's list. Is there any greater terra incognita than the end times? And just when we had safely escaped 2012!

I am hearing news reports this morning that the Holy Father had his pacemaker replaced three months ago. Perhaps that played a role in his decision.

Brian:Usually people give two weeks notice when they are leaving a job. But then, he's the pope and I suppose only answers to a higher power.

Re bodily infirmities: Maybe his knees went...all that kneeling and genuflecting--from an early age.

Irene Baldwin:I think it is totally cool he is going to live with a group of women.Benedict XVI is already living with 4 women. They are members of Memores Domini, a body of consecrated laity committed to lifelong celibacy and part of the broader Communion and Liberation movement. They and are his housekeepers. I read that they also share meals and pray with him.

On the NCR site, John Allen reports on today's press conference given by the Vatican's chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J. Father Lombardi did his best to answer the questions, but hardly claimed the last word on everything just 24 hours after the Pope's announcement.Allen's report is definitely worth reading. It answers some of the questions that have come up on this site.For example, it appears that Pope Benedict will live in what is now the former convent of cloistered nuns. The last Sisters moved out in November, and since that time the building has been being re-structured as "a residence."

I find it odd that Benedict will live literally in the new pope's back yard== without asking the new pope's permission. Didn't it occur to B, that he might not be welcome? Couldn't he have waited until after the election to find out what the new pope wants? Or are such decisions made by the Vatican governors -- you know, the ones who decided he couldn't have a cat there. I wonder if there is some pressing reason for him to be staying there.

"I find it odd that Benedict will live literally in the new popes back yard== without asking the new popes permission. Didnt it occur to B, that he might not be welcome?"The new Pope, whoever he turns out to be, would be something of a mutt if he wanted to evict an 85 year old man.

If the Vatican were Benedict's home in the usual sense that might be true. But it isn't.

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