By Warren Schmidt
“The pope resigned.”
These words, spoken to me by a Basilian confrere, were the first words I heard on Monday, 11
February, the morning after Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be stepping down from
the Petrine office on 28 February 2013.
Besides my initial dumbfounded reaction to this once-in-598-year announcement, I was not
deeply surprised that a pope could resign. In fact, Canon 332 §2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law
provides for such a move by the pope. However, just the previous day, as I was preparing to
teach Children’s Sacramental Preparation, I heard speculation of an impending announcement
from Rome about the canonization of new saints, among them would be figures especially
connected to social justice.
I wondered who these newly-canonized saints might be: Dorothy Day, perhaps, or an outside
chance that Archbishop Oscar Romero might be canonized... What an announcement I would
have for those preparing for Confirmation with my guidance!
“The pope resigned.”
This was not the announcement I had anticipated. Not since the days of multiple claimants to
the papacy in Rome, Avignon, and then Pisa had a pope -- Gregory XII, in 1415 -- resigned. Not
since Pope St. Celestine V (pope until 1294) had a pope resigned when there was no rival papal
Over the course of 11 February, I came to the calm sense that, as unusual as it was, Pope
Benedict XVI’s resignation is the correct decision. In humility, Pope Benedict accepted that he
could not physically meet the demands of the Petrine ministry until the end of his life. Pope John
Paul II taught us how to die with dignity; Pope Benedict XVI taught us the exercise of humility
by resigning, I heard said several times on 11 February and in the days thereafter.
The pope is not God, and the Church is not the kingdom of God. The papacy and the Church,
instead, are institutions meant to lead the faithful to God and into the fullness of God’s kingdom.
In resigning, Pope Benedict XVI put this principle into action. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance,
may those tasked with choosing his successor after Peter do so with the wisdom, humility, and
awareness of human finitude and frailty exemplified by Pope Benedict XVI.
CNS Photo/ via pool