I have no insight into the reasons for the Pope’s decision, though I fear that rapidly declining health is at the head of the list. How blessed we were to have a man who inherited the hardest job in the world, at an age where others feel the bitter decline of old age. For eight years he has governed the Church with a steady hand, righting the bark of Peter so inundated by the forces of the world. Perhaps he was fearful of manipulation by those who so often surround the centers of power. He refused to let his bodily weakness be a vehicle for damage to the Church. For all of these we are profoundly grateful. His legacy in doctrine, liturgy, and theology far outstrips the relative brevity of his pontificate. He is truly a worthy successor to St. Benedict, Father of monks and patron of Europe, to Benedict XIV -the shining light of learning, and to Benedict XV – the great Pope of Peace.
Perhaps in our initial shock we may have neglected to think of some of the advantages of this development. Benedict will be able to advise his successor, ensuring a continuity of governance that will be unparallelled in the recent history of the Church. He will be available for consultation and advice, and will be able to give the new pope “the lay of the land.” In this way Benedict helps to disintermediate various curial interests which, like any bureaucracy, make it difficult to begin a reign. I believe this will be the most orderly transition of authority witnessed in historical memory, even in an age of peaceful conclaves. I offer one final thought: Benedict has offered us a witness of the exceptional sovereignty of the pope. Truly he is the successor of Peter who has freely manifested his resignation, which can be accepted by no power on earth. Such a demonstration of papal authority is astonishing in its constitutional implications. St. Peter pray for us and for your successors!
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