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A Bolt From Out of the Blue

Chiara Santomiero - published on 02/12/13 - updated on 06/08/17

Reactions to the Resignation of Benedict XVI

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“A bolt from out of the blue.” Perhaps this expression – used by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Cardinal Sodano – best sums up the general reaction to Benedict XVI’s announcement that he is stepping down from the Petrine ministry effective February 28.

The Pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, was understandably the only person kept abreast of the decision over recent months. “I was aware,” the cleric stated according to reports published on the daily newspaper Die Welt’s website: “My brother hopes to have more peace and tranquility as he gets older” (Reuters).

“Your mission, however, will continue,” Cardinal Sodano went on to say in his response following the Holy Father’s announcement. “You have assured us that you will always remain close to us by your witness and by your prayer. The stars of heaven, of course, always continue to shine, and so too shall your pontificate forever shine in our midst.”

“The Pope’s resignation,” explained Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office in a briefing with journalists, “is consistent with statements the Pope made in his book-length interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World. There, Seewald posed two questions specifically regarding the possibility of resigning. In a first question regarding certain difficult situations, he asks if these were weighing on the papacy, and if the Pope had ever considered resigning.

His response was: “When the danger is great, one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign” (the reference was to the issue of abuse) “and in times such as these, one needs to endure and to overcome the difficult situation. This is my thought on the matter. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.” Here, then, the Holy Father had said that difficulties, for him, were not reason to resign but rather not to resign.

Seewald’s second question was this: “Could you then envision a situation in which the Pope would consider his resignation appropriate?” The Pope’s response was, “Yes, if a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign” (Vatican Radio).

The news immediately spread across the globe. “The German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation via her spokesman Steffen Seibert. Merkel expressed “gratitude and respect” for the pontificate of the “German” Pope. “The federal government wishes to express its most profound respect for the Holy Father, for his work and for having dedicated his life to the Catholic Church’” (Pope Ratzinger 6).

Similar sentiments were expressed by the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano: “It is truly a great show of courage for which I have the greatest respect,” Napolitano said regarding the Pope’s decision to resign” (Reuters).

The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, stated in a Twitter message, “I wish to express my deepest respect for a Pope who gave hope to people in spite of all the Church’s difficulties” (Reuters).

The Archbishop of Paris, André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, stated: “By his decision to leave the papacy, Benedict XVI has broken a secular taboo, which begins a new chapter in the history of the papacy.” He added, “Personally, I consider his act to be a courageous one. For Christians, it is an important event because of its exceptional character, but also because of the personality of the Pope.” The Cardinal added: “In terms of our own nation, for the French, who over the course of the past eight years and even before have seen the strong ties Benedict XVI has maintained with the French Church and culture, it means losing a very dear friend of France in general, and of the French Church in particular” (Reuters).

“It is a decision that leaves us with heavy hearts full of pain and sorrow; yet again Benedict XVI has offered us an example of profound interior freedom.” With these words, Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, President of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), expressed his sentiments on behalf of the entire Church in Italy following news of the announcement of the Pope’s resignation.

Cardinal Péter Erdő, President of the European Bishops’ Conference (CCEE), said in a written statement sent to the Pope: “We thank the Lord for your wealth of teaching, for your messages, for the care with which you have always accompanied the bishops of Europe, and for your personal witness of faith and trust in the Lord, by which you have always expressed such a great love for the whole Church.” 

However, reactions to Benedict XVI’s decision have not come only from within the Catholic Church. Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Rome, expressed “surprise and sorrow” at the choice of so “learned and sensible an interlocutor.” The relationship with this Pope, Di Segni stated, was based on “esteem,” and “we especially appreciated his attention to emphasizing Christianity’s Jewish roots as a premise for a respectful and constructive relationship.” Di Segni added, “Naturally there have been moments of divergence, which is inevitable given the essential and incurable differences between the two worlds, but there has always been a positive will aimed at comparing [the two worlds] and building a constructive dialogue.” Di Segni concluded: “His visit to the Synagogue in Rome in January 2011 will not be forgotten, as a sign of continuity with the footsteps of his predecessor” (Reuters). 

“We are pained and very surprised by Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation,” Foad Aodi, President of the Arab World Community in Rome (COMAI) said in a statement. “We thank the Pope for his many meaningful appeals on behalf of peace, the human rights of immigrants, humanitarian aid to civilians experiencing hardship, and intercultural and interreligious dialogue,” Aodi continued. “It is surely a courageous act, and one full of responsibility. It is also a lesson for all the leaders of the world. It is something completely new.” Aodi, who expressed his hopes for an “Italian Pope,” concluded by saying, “The Arab world reiterates its closeness to the Pope and to the entire Catholic Church, as well as its readiness to continue and intensify its collaboration and dialogue with all religions”. (Adnkronos). 

The new archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican community, Justin Welby, told the Religious Information Service (SIR) that Pope Benedict XVI “showed us all something of what the vocation of the See of Rome can mean in practice – a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope.” Welby spoke of a ministry that Benedict XVI carried out “with great dignity, insight and courage.” “In his teaching and writing,” Welby continued, “he has brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day. We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s ministry.”

Words of esteem for the papacy also came from the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. “Pope Benedict XVI declared war on the dictatorship of relativism,” he said “and this made him quite unpopular in the eyes of secular politicians and journalists. But he is not a media star; he is a man of the Church,” said Metropolitan Hilarion, Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (quoted by Itar-Tass). “The Pope has been criticized by the mass media as a traditionalist and a conservative. But these are precisely the qualities which are appreciated by millions of Christians throughout the world, whether Catholic or not, and,” he added, “by those who wish to maintain the spiritual and moral values of traditional Christianity” (Reuters).

Pope Benedict XVI
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