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February 26, 2013


I don't think anyone should be forced to work to death, tradition be damned.

One huge problem with the "resigned because of looming scandal" theory is that it is exactly the opposite of what someone would do in that situation. It's not like the various scandals in the Church are going to disappear and be forgotten, just because Pope Benedict is no longer in office.

Rather, it is more likely (assuming one or more has really gotten as far as "looming") that Benedict's departure will make it more possible for the details to come out. And there is some reason to suspect that he will now get to live thru his name being blackened for the things that he has done to cover up those scandals. Why would anyone resign in order to have that?

I think you are right. In addition to the points you make, I think that the mode of abdication tells a lot. The abdication seemed to be a true surprise to the prelates and bishops assembled in the consistory.

The declaration was written by the pope himself, in his own hand. This means that the pope was able to write it in private, without the word spreading. The use of Latin, which the pope likely knows better than Italian, and which is the language of the Catholic Church anyhow, makes it even more difficult for others to understand the contents at the first glance, if they happen to see the document.

Second, the pope chose a routine situation where he would read a lot of documents aloud, and which is routinely televised. Thus, the pope could take his declaration to the consistory without raising inordinate notice and when he read it aloud, it was immediately publicised to the press, which made it impossible to cover it up. Pro tertia, the document itself shows the papal commitment: the hand-written declaration would be very difficult to claim to have been written under duress or by chance.

So, if I were a pope who would be abdicating against the wishes of the curia, I would use the procedure Benedict XVI used. He made it impossible to imprison him under the guise of a medical emergency to preserve the power of some grand vizier.

If you want to impute sinister motives to the resignation, it seems more plausible to question how much of an influence he's going to be as Pope Emeritus. It seems to me that having a Pope Emeritus who many of the Cardinals are indebted to is inherently a challenge to the independence of both the election of the new Pope and the actions of the new Pope after the elections. If anyone would be capable of pushing an otherwise unpopular choice for the new Pontiff, I'd think it would be a recently retired one who many members of the College of Cardinals owe favors. Similarly, if he manages to influence the election, the new Pope will be both somebody who probably agrees with him and will be indebted to him, which should give him a lot of influence. If his goal is to protect his legacy and prevent backsliding on his chosen initiatives, he might well be better off retiring while he still has the moxie to ensure a sympathetic successor than clinging to power as long as possible.

If his goal is to protect his legacy and prevent backsliding on his chosen initiatives, he might well be better off retiring while he still has the moxie to ensure a sympathetic successor than clinging to power as long as possible.

So, not only is he avoiding the Grand Vizier problem himself, he is turning it on its head to become, very loosely speaking, a Grand Vizier of sorts. How devilish...

Roger, since all the current cardinals were installed either by Benedict or by John Paul II, there's little likelihood of them veering from any course he has set.

One potentially embarassing problem has been taken care of by another predecessor. Cardinals lose their right to vote and to get elected at age 80, so Benedict cannot directly participate in the election of his successor. After the death of Paul VI. (who introduced that rule) the Swiss guard had to stop several cardinals that were beyond that age from climbing into the conclave through the windows.
Bebedict has taken some effort to emphasize that he will not meddle with the election or with the policy of his successor and I think he actually means it. The chances of a radical reformer becoming pope is imo extremly low anyway.
My first bet is: an Italian
My second bet: someone from South America.
I consider an African pope to be still highly unlikely and would even see better chances for a Filipino than a black one.

Great post. Being at a Japanese university, in the twilight of Japanese demographic decline, provides a similar atmosphere to the curia, I think.

Hartmut's comment touches on something that interests me, which is retirement age. Here at my university, every year, at the end of the year party, they announce who is retiring and they come up on stage and it always seems like the guys (it's almost always guys) who I think must be leaving don't go up, and these energetic ones who I think might be around 60, but no way can they be around 68, come up to say goodbye.

There is also this interesting rule at our uni that in the last 3 years of work, you no longer have to attend faculty meetings. I mentioned to someone that this was a nice gesture, and he said, the real reason was that people who were coming up to the end of their career would be able to argue for changes based on their seniority, and wouldn't be around to deal with the aftermath. And while I can see some people making some truly idiotic suggestions, one can also see how this keeps a seniority based system as conservative as possible.


This isn't entirely unprecedented. ISTR there's some history of this kind of thing happening in Japan; the Shogun would "retire" to become the power behind the throne rather than the nominal ruler. I'm not necessarily saying that's what's going to happen here- Benedict says he's not planning on doing that- but it's at least as plausible a conspiracy theory as him being forced out.


The past two Popes may have appointed all of the Cardinals who will be voting in the election, but there are still limits. Those men have still been shaped by their individual backgrounds and experiences, which means there will in practice be a range of opinions within the College of Cardinals. In particular, I expect the Cardinals who have been out in the dioceses dealing with the Church's scandals are going to have some very different opinions from the ones who have been back in the Vatican running the bureaucracy. I can easily imagine a factional fight between those two parties, and a win by the diocesan party might well reject the John Paul II/Benedict XVI approach to dealing the the scandals.

Nothing new there. It's a relatively new development that there is even 'competition' by 'outsiders'. In the distant past it was primarily bribery that decided the election but later it became just an insider game, where the Italians and esp. those with a direct line to the curia held all the cards. John 23rd was when it all terribly backfired from the POV of the insiders. He was intended as a pure placeholder until a 'proper' successor to Pius XII could be found. But this 'Italian granny' (he got indeed called that) turned the whole system upside down and the apparatus has still not been able to fully recover from that. Without hi we would probably still wait for a non-Italian pope (let alone two in a row). During John Paul II's pontificate there was the expectation that he would be the exception ("one non-Italian every 400 years is enough"). The Italians still have about a quarter of the votes in the conclave (in the past there were more Italian cardinals than in the rest of the world combined), so they are at an advantage. But at least these days they have to put up a fight and cannot simply ignore their non-Italian colleagues.

Someone has to post it: Was I Wazir?

I'll give Benedict credit for recognizing that the JPII situation was an example of a new problem: modern medicine could keep a Pope alive long after he was incompetent/incapable. His resignation sets a precedent that might reduce the occurrence of this in the future. And I think he really will stay out of the next Pope's decisions: he may be reactionary, but this decision alone suggests that he is principled.

I believe the "retire and rule" model in Japan was used by Emperors before the Shogunate.

A comment in today's papers throws a small bit of doubt on his neutrality. It puts up the hypothesis that the abbreviation of the pre-conclave (the purpose of which is for all the cardinals to know each other better before the actual election) is a deliberate move in favor of the Italian/curia section because it diminishes the chance of 'outsiders' with low name recognition.

Harmut, the mental picture of octogenerian cardinals trying to climb through windows of the Sistine chapel, and being stopped by the Swiss Guard, is just TOO bizarre.

Pix? Vids? Was Fr. Guido Sarducci involved?

I read about that in a book, either a history of the papacy or a biography of JP I. Neither is within reach at the moment, so I can't check. But there were no pictures, only text. We are pretty well informed about the conclave that elected the successor to Paul VI., which is uncommon because in theory all participants have to vow secrecy. Benedict has tightened the rules even further recently: anyone talking is automatically excommunicated (while the rule book before that only had vague threats of 'severe punishment').

This was a great article. I knew that Benedict had repeatedly stated that resignation was legitimate, but not much of what he did in John Paul's later years. This theory sounds far more plausible than any of the other speculation I've heard.

Japanese emperors often "retired" but rarely ruled either before, or after.

The classic case is the Fujiwara Regency of the Heian (Kyoto capital) period. A young emperor would be married off to a Fujiwara daughter. As soon as an heir was produced, the emperor would abdicate to become a Buddhist monk. From then on, the Fujiwara father-in-law would act as regent until the cycle could be repeated.

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