Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, today has announced formally in Rome his intention to renounce the commission of ministry as the Bishop of Rome effective February 28, 2013. While this decision will catch many by surprise and is indeed rare in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church, Canon Law allows for the possibility (Canon 332 §2). There are also precedents. According to historic accounts, at least five popes have resigned the papacy—St. Pontian 235, Benedict IX 1045, Gregory VI 1046, Celestine V 1294, and Gregory XII 1415.
Regardless of allowances in the law and historic precedent, we are saddened by the news yet confident that our Holy Father, as always, has approached this momentous decision after much prayer and serious reflection. I consider myself blessed to have met him on a number of occasions mostly at audiences for selected occasions. Most of all, I cherish his writings and spoken word, where he opened to me a new understanding of the Sacred Scripture and the theology of the Church. His great love for the liturgy was apparent. On the only occasion in which I had a brief conversation with him, the exchange took place at the recent ad limina apostolorum visit on the topic of the recent translation of the Roman Missal. He posed questions to me that revealed his concern that the faithful had been adequately prepared to receive the new missal with open hearts and minds. Thus, he revealed a desire that we be brought to a deeper love for Divine worship and loving participation in the Church’s liturgy.
With gratitude to our Heavenly Father, we recall the almost eight years of Pope Benedict XVI’s service to the Church as Pope. Even prior to his election as Bishop of Rome, his extraordinary scholarship, spiritual depth, and strong leadership were an inspiration to all of us. As Bishop of Rome, he spoke and wrote eloquently on the faith and the need for spiritual renewal. His apostolic journeys reached out to troubled areas of the world, and he diligently worked for unity amongst Christians and within the Church. We all assure him of our prayers and support.