Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI resigns

By Donald Sensing

Here's a zinger out of left field: Pope Benedict XVI resigns due to age and declining health

Benedict has been Pope for eight years and is stepping down at age 85. The real question is whether his successor will be European. I don't see how.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but papal observers say that Benedict signaled quite some time ago that he would not leave the papacy by death:

To the vast majority of people today's news will have come - as one cardinal put it - as "a lightening  [sic] bolt from a clear sky". But some scholars have been slightly less surprised, reports Lizzy Davies in Rome. 
George Ferzoco, a research fellow of Bristol University, is a specialist in Celestine V - the Pope who, as we now all know, resigned in 1294 straight after making it possible for a pope to do so. He points out that Benedict is the only pope to have visited the tomb of Celestine not once but twice.
As this AP report from the second occasion says, Benedict praised his predecessor, who was felt both by himself and by others to be unsuited to the role given him.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Ferzoco believes the link is quite obviously there. He told me: "I think the amount of attention he drew to Celestine was an indication of this matter having been on his mind. I think it's quite clear."
Ferzoco also pointed out that in the town of Sulmona, home to Celestine's tomb, the cathedral has a mosaic showing both Celestine and Benedict: an image which, after today, appears uncannily prescient.

Pope Benedict XVI stands by the remains of Pope Celestine V in 2009.
Pope Benedict XVI stands by the remains of Pope Celestine V in 2009. Photograph: AP
Update: For the historically minded, there is a highly interesting summary of the centuries-old background to this story at Burnable Books', "Popes Who Quit."

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