Monday, February 10, 2014

How Benedict XVI set the stage for Pope Francis

Pope Francis is shaking things up in the Catholic church to such an extent that many talk about a “Francis revolution”. Yet the single most revolutionary act committed by any pope in at least the last 600 years fell exactly one year ago today, and it wasn’t Francis who did it.

On Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI used a meeting of cardinals discussing new saints to deliver the stunning announcement that he planned to resign, effective 8 pm Rome time on Feb. 28. The news was a total surprise to everyone except a handful of papal intimates, and it set the stage for all the drama that’s followed.

One cardinal said afterward that he sat in the room well after the meeting broke up, still unable to comprehend what had just happened. He played Benedict’s Latin phrasing over and over again in his mind to be sure he’d understood.

Yes, a handful of popes had resigned before, most recently Gregory XII in 1415. The circumstances, however, were so wildly different as to make Benedict’s decision essentially unprecedented – a pope not facing foreign armies or internal schism who decided voluntarily to step aside, while continuing to live on Vatican grounds and pledging “unconditional obedience” to whoever might succeed him.


Boston Globe

By John L. Allen Jr.


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