Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict XVI to Resign for "Health" Reasons

Benedict XVI is an octogenarian, so it is not in the least surprising if he has serious medical concerns. On the other hand, as many people are pointing out, a pope hasn't resigned the papacy since 1415, when Pope Gregory XII "resigned" to end the Western Schism (his resignation was basically forced by the Council of Constance - for a voluntary resignation, one would need to go back to Celestine V in 1294, or to the resignation of Benedict IX who was a "disgrace to the Chair of Peter"). Nevertheless, confirmed news reports indicate that Benedict XVI will be resigning shortly (link to a report).

Pope Benedict XVI's papacy has been involved in a number of different scandals, including the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal, in which various allegations of corruption were made and various aspects of the sex-abuse scandal, including allegations that Bendedict XVI had (prior to becoming pope) discouraged Irish bishops from reporting abuse to the police. The most recent major scandal in the U.S. was Archbishop Gomez's decision unilaterally to impose what amounts to discipline on Cardinal Mahoney, his hierarchical superior.

The health issue may be a real and even a primary motivation for Benedict XVI's remarkable resignation - but this breakdown in the hierarchy is a more obvious reason. One would expect that the princes of the church would be disciplined by the pope himself, not by their local archbishop. Nevertheless, it is hard to know how much of the iceberg lies beneath the surface.

Benedict XVI will not get to pick his successor. However, his suggestions may carry weight amongst the cardinals who participate in the papal enclave. There are currently 199 Cardinals, of which only 79 are eligible to vote (a cardinal cannot vote after he reaches a certain age). The oldest living cardinal is Paul Augustin Mayer, born May 23, 1911 (101 years old), and the youngest is Peter Erdö, born June 25, 1952 (60 years old).

If I had to guess who the new pope will be, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is the top name, followed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada. If I had to guess who Benedict XVI would like to see as the next pope, Cardinal Walter Kasper seems like a possibility. And don't forget, Cardinals Law and Mahoney are both eligible to be elected by the other cardinals as the next pope. I don't think that's remotely likely to happen, but it's worth noting that they maintain their current ecclesiastical rank (see the full list here).

Others have other favorites:
So, who are the current favorites? Three names are most prominent: Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa.

Cardinal Scola, 70, is highly esteemed by the pontiff, who moved him from the Patriarchate of Venice to Milan, one of the largest and most important sees in Europe. He is a brilliant, if at times recondite, theologian, a major supporter of the New Evangelization and a leader in Catholic-Islamic dialogue. His election could be hampered by internal divisions among the Italian cardinals.

Cardinal Ouellet, 68, is a Sulpician and served as archbishop of Quebec from 2002 to 2010 before taking over as head of the powerful Vatican office that oversees the appointment of the world’s bishops. Critics point to the lamentable state of the Church in Quebec during his tenure and wonder if he would be able to reinvigorate the faith in the West.

Cardinal Bagnasco, 69, is very well known among the Italian and European Cardinals and has a reputation for intellectual heft. He is also president of the influential Italian Bishops’ Conference.


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