The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What Does One Call a Former Pope?

Pope St. Celestine V
There is apparently some disagreement over how many popes have left office during the 2,000-year history of the Church, but pretty much everyone agrees that there were at least two. Perhaps the most interesting was Pope St. Celestine V who resigned in December 1294 after serving only five months as pope. Indeed, the cardinals who assembled in Perugia to elect the new pope, met for over two years before deciding on this holy man who lived a life of asceticism and penitence. A monk and hermit who founded the Celestines, he at first refused the papacy. He was finally persuaded to accept by a deputation of cardinals and European royalty. His brief papacy was not without lasting value, however, since it included two long-standing decrees: that cardinal electors should be locked in conclave when choosing a pope; and that a pope should be permitted to resign. Sadly, this holy man who wanted only to return to his life of seclusion, was imprisoned after leaving office. He died in prison under more than mysterious circumstance.

Pope Gregory XII
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 after nine years as pope. His resignation was the result of a series of rather complex negotiations aimed at ending the Western Schism. It was finally resolved by the Council of Constance at which the pope's resignation was announced, the antipope was set aside, and the papal seat declared vacant. Eventually Pope Martin V was elected as Gregory's successor.

Today the current Code of Canon Law allows for a papal resignation:
Canon 332, Paragraph 2 says: “Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is to be required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.”
I especially like the final clause of this canon. Who indeed would have the authority to accept a pope's resignation?

Until now, because this canon has never been exercised, we are left with some questions. What, for example, should a living former pope be called? The Church, of course, has an answer. And it was provided by Father Federico Lombardi of the Vatican's press office during a meeting with the press on 26 February. Speaking of Pope Benedict, Fr. Lombardi said, “He will still be called His Holiness Benedict XVI, but he will also be called Pope Emeritus or Roman Pontiff Emeritus.”

Interestingly, Fr. Lombardi also stated that, once Benedict XVI ceases being pope, the Swiss Guards will leave their stations and no longer protect him. That job will be taken on by the Vatican police.

And while all this is very interesting, I think very few people will have the opportunity to address the former pope by his new titles. Since the Pope Emeritus intends to spend his remaining days in seclusion at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery inside the Vatican walls, I suspect we will see or hear very little of him in the future. One hopes he will, however, continue writing for publication.

The following brief video describes the Pope Emeritus' future retirement plans:

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