Three texts I liked about Benedict XVI’s resignation:

The first two are from David Warren on his blog Essays in Idleness (

and the third by Bud Macfarlane, whose CatholiCity ( Message I have received since 1998 (two years after they launched their online apostolate). The newsletter is reproduced hereafter almost in its entirety (complete text at

The Pope Resigns

A Special CatholiCity Message

Dear CatholiCity Citizen,

I am certain our next pope will be one of the greatest in history, and I hope to explain why in a way you have not read online or heard on the news. Earlier today, when I received Holy Communion, literally, from the hand of my own bishop, His Excellency and fellow Red Sox fan, Richard Lennon, in the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland, we had a pope. By the time you read this, for the two hundred and sixty-sixth time, the world will no longer have a pope. During the Eucharistic Prayer, Bishop Lennon led us in intercessory prayer for Pope Benedict XVI. Tomorrow, he will not. In a sense, temporarily not having a pope is a normal part of the life of the Church, a bittersweet reminder that we are all mortal. Next week I will send you a more typical CatholiCity Message, but today I will only address the former Pope Benedict XVI’s momentous renunciation of the papacy.

The Modern Dynamic Papacy

There is a false view that the papacy, to some degree due to the very fact of the unending line of succession directly back to Jesus and Saint Peter, is a static institution. In fact, the Chair of Peter is always adapting and changing. In the beginning, to be elected pope was tantamount to receiving a death sentence. You know those popes listed in the First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass: Linus, Cletus, Sixtus? Martyrs all, hearts pumping their own blood out their bodies to the last beat. (I named my fourth son after Cletus and pray to Sixtus I, who is a reliable intercessor.) After the fall of the Roman Empire, Popes Leo the Great and Gregory the Great literally became massively influential figures in the great telling of human history.

Virtually all popes in recent centuries have been decent, holy men. Over the past two hundred years in particular, our popes have been exceptional men, if not saints. This occurred by design. Disgusted by the corrupt, local control of the papacy, which had degenerated at times during the Renaissance into what Church historians have called a “pornocracy,” the devout kings and noblemen of Europe applied pressure over time to reform the College of Cardinals, effectively distributing the authority to elevate a papal successor around the Christian world.

The majority of the 117 or so Cardinals who will elect our next pope were chosen by Benedict, the rest by John Paul. Both popes refined the election rules of the College to further resist the formation of voting blocks. The small number of liberals who might remain, even closeted, have virtually no hope of knowingly electing one of their own. Rest assured: our best, brightest, most experienced leaders will select Benedict’s successor, and do so with a formidable two-thirds majority support that will extend after his election.

I have written before about how the priesthood worldwide consists of over 400,000 admirable men who (with the exception of a miniscule percentage consisting of converted married priests from Protestantism and a few ancient or [Eastern] rites) have demonstrated their zeal to imitate Christ by forsaking marriage. Over two millennia, the priesthood has always attracted the best and the brightest, and the Church long ago learned how to channel the most talented into leadership positions. It is a uniquely and gruelingly efficient system.

Pope Benedict, who might be the most intellectually gifted pope in history, is personally demonstrating the culmination of this modern dynamic papacy. Having suffered first-hand the Culture of Death under the Nazis during his youth, as a major theological contributor to Vatican II (and personal witness to the courage of John XXIII to adapt not just the Church, but the papacy, to modern times), and as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over two decades as Blessed Pope John Paul’s right-hand man, he was the most qualified, experienced, and informed man to ever become pope. His life stands astride the post-Christian, morally relativistic world he has spoken and written about so cogently.

And remember, the most surprising aspect of Benedict’s reign was not his renunciation of the office, but his manifest holiness. The entire world was expecting a mean-spirited tyrant, based on ridiculous secular reports after his elevation. Instead, we Catholics and the people of the world have literally witnessed a humble saint who focused on Jesus in his published papal works. […]

Consider […] the thematic arc of the papacy over the past fifty years:

Pope John XXIII radically altered the Church’s orientation to the modern world, and therefore the papacy, forever. Risk taker.

Pope Paul VI, based on Humane Vitae alone, prophetically and clearly outlined the battle lines of the post-Christian world. Brave.

John Paul I symbolically gave the papacy a profoundly electric new double name (both early Church evangelists!) and a reassuring smile foreshadowing God’s bigger plans for our lives as Catholics. A surprise.

John Paul II over a particularly long reign transformed the papacy into a personal, international vocation. Just as we cannot participate in the sacrament of Confession over the phone, by leveraging technology and modern air travel, he demonstrated to all future popes that they are obliged to make Jesus personally present in our lives. The great innovator.

In the context of this arc, rather than settling for “caretaker” status, we have experienced today Benedict the Bold, resister of Nazis, Vatican II whiz kid from the Old School of Breaking Tradition by Making Tradition. By taking the calculated risk of abdication, he demonstrates more courage than humility. We do not normally think of octogenarians as gamblers, but that is what Benedict has done. He fired himself, for the love of God.

I have not been able to substantiate rumors that Benedict resigned shortly after discovering details about the machinations of a cabal of homosexuals in the Vatican, and even if this were true, I do not think it would explain his resignation. Although I take him at his word that a lack of vitality brought on by old age was a factor, I do not personally believe that this was a deciding factor. After all, he made it clear he believed he was too old for the papacy before he became pope. We know facts about Benedict:
He is holy.
He is an intellectual genius.
He is as tough as decade-old leather.
He is the most experienced pope in history.

As a supreme ruler actively placing the Church’s future into the hands of the College of Cardinals, Benedict is manifesting John Paul’s reassuring admonition to Be Not Afraid. He is betting the Holy Spirit and our Cardinals will give the world the definitive Pope of the New Evangelization. Aware that modern medicine vastly expands the possibility of popes living into decades of dotage, he is literally indicating he believes that younger older guys are needed to take on the enormous modern responsibilities of an internationalist, personalistic, and vigorous Petership.

As a young man, and student of history, and in baptismal hope that God wants me to go to heaven, I always imagined that the first person I would make a beeline to in eternity would be George Washington, who I have always believed was the most influential person in modern history. Not anymore. If there is hanging out in heaven, I’m hanging with Joe Ratzinger if he’ll let me. Until then, may he live to be 110 to advise our next pope, and the one after, starting yet another bold tradition of traditional tradition-breaking.

So expect our next pope to “rock” the world, pun intended. Benedict seems to expect someone extraordinary. Therefore, so do I. Fully in context and in parallel with his most recent forebears, former Pope Benedict has taken a particularly bold action on our behalves, and has indicated by his very act that he expects our Cardinals to require full-throttle greatness on any potential papal resume, seemingly unaware that he himself has become Benedict the Great.

Bud Macfarlane