16 February 2013

Renouce or resign? And more of my thoughts

As you might expect, Bishop Paprocki and I have discussed the recent and jolting announcement of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI several times during this past week.

The Holy Father made his announcement one year and two days after Bishop Paprocki's ad limini pilgrimage, on which I was privileged to accompany him and meet Pope Benedict.

Last evening he sent to me his thoughts on the use of the words "resignation," "renouncement," and "adbdication" as they relate to to the intention of the Holy Father in light of the Code of Canon Law:
The official English translation of the Code of Canon Law translates “renuntiatio” in canon 332 as “resignation,” so I am sticking with “resign” rather than ”renounce” and certainly not “abdicate.” I think that “renounce” is a literal but not necessarily accurate translation of “renuntio,” and since the Pope spoke in Latin, it is a question of translation. Parallel passages in canon law regarding bishops and pastors use the word “renuntiatio,” but we never speak of a bishop sending in his letter of “renunciation” when he turns 75 or a pastor “renouncing” his office. So my interpretation as a canon lawyer is “resignation” as the proper translation of “renuntiatio” in this context.
Over the past couple of days I have noticed the shift from the use of the word "resign" to the word "renounce" to describe what Pope Benedict XVI will do at 8:00 p.m. Roman time on February 28th. Though I also started to use the term "renounce" based on the views of others, I did not like the connotations that come with that term in English.

Bishop Paprocki's view seems to me to make more sense.  Though it doesn't make it easier to understand the Holy Father's decision, which I know he has made after much prayer and in good conscience, it does make it at least a little easier to accept.

As the Bishop and I talked about this difference in terms this afternoon, it occurred to me that there is within me not so much a logical difficulty but an emotional one with the Holy Father's design to resign the office of the Supreme Pontiff.

While I have no difficulty in accepting the resignation of Bishops from their Sees (though it does seem a bit odd to me), I have great difficulty in accepting the resignation of the Bishop of Rome or, more to it, in accepting the resignation of this Bishop of Rome, of Benedict XVI.  Again, what I am struggling - that may be too strong of a word - with is not an intellectual difficulty but an emotional one.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that referring to Pope Benedict XVI as one "like a father" to me does not come close enough to the truth of the affection I have for him.  Throughout his papacy, as ever before, he has shown us the way to Jesus Christ not only through the simple profundity of his words, but also through the example of his simple humility. 

Very obviously Pope Benedict is an introvert at heart, and a very strong introvert at that, so strong, in fact, that he refers to his books as his "friends."  As an introvert myself, whose introverted tendencies seem to be strengthening as I grow older and who also considers his books to be friends, I feel a particular spiritual connection with him.  Viewed in this way, I can well understand his decision, but that does not make it easy to accept.

He was elected to the See of Peter a few weeks before Archbishop George J. Lucas ordained me a Priest of Jesus Christ.  Consequently, I watched with great interest Pope Benedict XVI learn not only what it meant to be the Bishop of Rome, but also how to allow his personality to impact his ministry as the Successor of Saint Peter, perhaps in a way that only a fellow introvert could do.

As I wastched him, I, too, was learning a similar lesson; I was learning what it meant to be a priest (the seminary cannot teach you everything) and how to allow my personality to impact my ministry.  Looking back, I can say that spent the first year of my priesthood learning what a priest does; the second year learning what it meant that I am a priest; and the third year learning who my parishioners were.  In this mostly uncouncious process, I learned a great deal by watching Pope Benedict XVI; all you have to do is look at early videos of the Holy Father and compare them to more recent videos to see what I mean.

Watching the various liturgical celebrations of Pope Benedict XVI, I grew in the ars celebrandi, the art of celebrating the liturgy, and without doing so consciously I began to "pick up" some of his liturgical style.  Reading his homilies and addresses my relationship with the Lord deepend and I learned how to preach to the Gospel.  For these great gifts, I am deeply indebted to him and I will miss him very much.

I do not consider myself a "JPII priest" (with all due respect and devotion to the late and Blessed Holy Father) but a "BXVI priest," and I have considered myself so from the day I was ordained.  If it were any other Bishop of Rome resigning his office, I honestly don't think I would be experiencing this emotional difficulty; from Benedict XVI I have received so much which I cannot adequately repay him, though I will do what I can by remembering him in my prayers.

May the Lord bless him and keep him.  May the Lord turn his face him and be gracious to him.  May the Lord make his countenance shine him and give him peace.  Amen!


  1. With all due respect to your bishop, who I know is a learned and devout servant of God, I don't see why he would say, "...and certainly not abdicate". In point of fact, this is an abdication. In addition to being the head of the college of bishops (ex officio as Bishop of Rome) the pope is also a sovereign and sovereigns abdicate. A few weeks ago no one spoke of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands "resigning". Catholics, especially American Catholics, have got to get over their republican DNA and realize whether we like it or not the pope is a sovereign in addition to being Christ's representative on Earth.

    And with all the respect I can possibly express for you, Father, I am neither a JPII priest or a BXVI priest (or a Paul VI priest for that matter). I know what you mean when you say that and I understand the point you are making but I am a priest of Jesus Christ regardless of who may occupy the chair of St. Peter at any given time. I'm not implying that you don't understand that as well but I think, sometimes, there is a tendency to place too high a priority on who the pope is and sometimes that clouds over that the Head of the Church is Jesus. I suspect you would actually agree (at least from what I've gotten to know of you).

    1. Thanks, Father Selvester! I do see and understand your thoughts about the Pope "abdicating" - since he is the sovereign of Vatican City State. Still, I don't like the use of abdicate on its own because it doesn't seem to convey his role as the Bishop of Rome. Perhaps the use of the phrase "resign and abdicate" would work to highlight both his spiritual and temporal roles, but that doesn't really seem a good solution.

      To your second concern about being first and foremost "a priest of Jesus Christ," you are, of course, quite right and with you I agree whole-heartedly. As Paul would say, we do not belong to Apollo, but to Christ.

      Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what, I think, is meant by the notion of a "JPII priest" or a "BXVI priest." By those terms, I think is implied a general disposition toward the personality of one Pope or another, a natural draw toward a particular disposition. Certainly no sort of "cult of personality" should be formed by such a notion.

      Priests often speak fondly of a priest who first inspired them and from whom they learned a great deal and seek to emulate in keeping with Saint Paul's "be imitator's of me as I am of Christ." That, I think, is what is meant by the phrase "JPII priest" and "BXVI priest;" at the very least, it is what I mean by it. I haved looked and will continue to look to Benedict XVI to imitate him as he imitates Christ.

      I hope that helps.

  2. Your thoughts about emotion reminded me of Cardinal Arinze's recent comments on the resignation. You probably watched it already... if not, I recommend searching for it on YouTube. He addresses the matter of emotion in this moment (and other like matters regarding the resignation) with his characteristic simplicity and joy.
    Perhaps it is my particular age or the timing of different stages of my conversion, but I also identify more emotionally with BXVI than with JPII. My emotional response to his announcement was stronger than I would have expected. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and also the the thoughts of your faithful shepherd. May God continue to guide and bless both of you!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Melody!

      Cardinal Arinze is right in what he says and intellectually I know he is; at some point my emotions will catch up to my intellect.

      Even so, I am confident that the next Pope - whomever he will be - will teach me many things, as well, and will be a gift to the Church.