In These Final Days

This morning at Mass I heard the celebrant utter, for the last time that I will hear, the prayer “for Benedict our Pope.” In roughly forty-eight hours the 265th Pontificate will come to a scheduled end, something barely thinkable until Benedict XVI announced his resignation a few weeks ago.

I repeatedly think back to the emotions I felt in April 2005, when the new Bishop of Rome emerged from the conclave:

Habemus papam!

How excited I was to hear those words! I held my infant son in my arms, standing excitedly before the television, watching that upper window with the rest of the world to see who would emerge as the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles. I caught myself on the verge of sobbing several times, so intense was the anticipation. And when Benedict XVI finally emerged into view I dropped to my knees in my living room, trembling with religious excitement.

And now my son is an infant no longer, in either the colloquial or the canonical sense of the word, and a new conclave will begin next month. In the years of this papacy I have gone from being a sullen seminary refugee, attending Sunday Mass each week out of a deep-rooted sense of obligation and little more, to a licensed canonist fresh out of graduate school, working full time for the Church directing two diocesan offices. Hard to imagine a much more dramatic move from fringe to core than I have traversed these past few years in the Church.

And will I drop to my knees when the next Pope is revealed? I don’t know, probably not: my knees aren’t getting any younger, and I have a lot of steps and hills to climb these days. But I will certainly be prayerfully excited, and ready to continue my journey, in the Church and with the Church, toward our shared goal of life everlasting.

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What do we call a retired Pope?

There are many, many questions flying through the ether following Pope Benedict XVI’a stunning announcement that he will be resigning the Petrine Office effective 28 February 2012. And yet, as at least one of my colleagues has already pointed out, most of them are pretty trivial, maybe because most of the substantive questions are already answered for those who care. And one of the most persistent questions I see is also arguably the most trivial: the question of title. What will we call a retired Pope?

For Catholics, at least for the more traditionally-minded of our tribe, protocol and formality is a BIG deal. If you need convincing, just consider the mere existence, let alone the success, of James-Charles Noonan, Jr.’s book The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (Viking, 1996; a revised second edition came out in 2012 from Sterling). Titles, choir dress, table setting: it’s all in there, and in some contexts it probably is important to know.

But I digress; back to the subject at hand. Dr. Ed Peters argues well that Benedict XVI will return to the status of a cardinal, albeit a superannuated one, too old to vote in future conclaves even if he wanted to (which he has already made clear he does not intend to do). This makes good sense on a practical level: cardinals enjoy a long list of universal faculties, meaning they are independent of the jurisdiction of any diocesan bishop (save that of the Bishop of Rome). As Peters correctly asks, “Could we really imagine the alternative: a former pope being subjected to the jurisdiction of someone other than the next pope?” It is a rhetorical question, for surely we cannot.

However, on 12 February 2013 the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, indicating that, while much is yet being worked out, it was certain he would not hold the title of cardinal, but might conceivably be referred to as “bishop emeritus of Rome.”

Personally, I suspect we probably won’t have much need to call him anything. All signs indicate that once the dust settles and the next Bishop of Rome is duly elected, the man who has been Benedict XVI for nearly eight years is going to step into a quiet, prayerful seclusion from which he will rarely, if ever, emerge in this life. He has carried a great burden, and we should know him well enough to realize that, if he is laying it down as he is, then he must be truly worn down indeed. He is not going to strike out on the lecture circuit or do a book tour: he is going to pray, quietly, out of public view, and prepare for his final task: eternity.

A Surprising Morning

On most weekdays I wake up well before the rest of my family, and one of the first things I do is wake up the iMac and check my news feeds in the quiet of the pre-dawn. (I really should move “pray” to the head of my morning activity list; that is something I am actively working on.) Most days this is little more than a stalling tactic before I tackle the dishes and my own ablutions. Not much has typically happened in Facebook Land between my late bedtime and my 6am rising.

But today was exceptional in almost every way. Post after post after post from my early-rising Catholic friends carried the same news: Pope Benedict XVI had just announced that he will be resigning his office as Bishop of Rome effective 28 February 2013, just a little more than two weeks hence.

Obviously my historical details were a tad off (it was pre-coffee, after all), but even so, I stand by the sentiment. This is stop the presses sort of news, and at least a few news sites and blogs have crashed under the surge of traffic this morning. Distinguished canon law expert Msgr. David-Maria Jaeger, OFM rightly refers to the details of this move as “uncharted waters”. The law of the Church, while acknowledging the possibility of such an event (canon 332 §2), makes no further provision or prescriptions for the details of such a heretofore theoretical eventuality. It will mostly take patience on all our parts to see how all of this shakes out, both canonically and (arguably more importantly) theologically; patience and faith.

Benedict XVI modifies Pastor Bonus with 2 new motu proprio

Get out your already heavily-amended copies of Pastor bonus, everyone: it is time to amend it yet again. The 1998 Pastoral Constitution of Pope John Paul II laid out in considerable detail the organization of the Roman Curia, specifying precisely the names and composition of each dicastery, enumerating which competencies, or responsibilities, each dicastery was charged with overseeing.

This past month the Holy See announced two new Apostolic Letters, each transferring an important competency from one Vatican dicastery to another:

  • Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio data” Ministrorum institutio modifying the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus and transferring the governance of seminaries from the “Congregation for Catholic Education” to the “Congregation for the Clergy” (16 January 2013)
  • Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio data” Fides per doctrinam modifying the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus and transferring the competence of Catechesis from the “Congregation for Clergy” to the “Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization” (16 January 2013)

Both of these shifts seem pretty straightforward, and I should think will elicit little real controversy. It has been discussed before (certainly in my recent coursework, if nowhere else) that seminaries are not, as their previous docketing would have seemed to indicate, simply one type of school among the many different species of Catholic educational institutions that the Congregation for Catholic Education oversees. Rather, seminaries fill a vital rôle in the formation of clergy, and so it is naturally under the competence of the Congregation for Clergy that they belong.

The second transfer is also unsurprising, and might well be indicative of a continued evolution of the Curia as a whole. In studying Pastor bonus just this past year it seemed that some of the Congregations had a sort of ‘grab bag’ list of competencies: probably for good historical reasons for the most, but still a bit eyebrow-raising at first glance. (It also makes trying to memorize said lists of competencies more than a bit daunting when they are so unintuitive at times.) And I wonder, too, if this move of Catechesis from the Congregation for Clergy to the relatively-new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization can be read as a sign that the divide in prestige between the older Congregations and the newer Pontifical Councils is beginning to erode. We shall just have to wait and see.

Certainly, though, this move reflects the great importance that the Holy Father is placing on the much-needed efforts to re-awaken the faith of vast populations who, though often Catholic in name or in history, have in recent generations lost much of their fervor and formation. Let us all pray, in this Year of Faith, that the faith of all may be rekindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit.