News of Pope Benedict’s decision to resign reached me as I was waiting for my bags at Brisbane airport after flying home from Rome after meetings there. On Thursday I met the Holy Father and he seemed the same as usual – old but in quite good form. I heard not a whisper of resignation while in Rome, which is a little surprising given how prone Rome is to rumour. Mind you, I had had a conversation over lunch about what might be done if a Pope ever became incapacitated, because Church law currently makes no provision for that; and I had thought in the past that if any Pope were likely to resign, it could be Pope Benedict. But I never really expected it to happen. Now it has. His election as Pope was a surprise to me, as it was to many. I thought he was too old. But his years of service have also proved surprising in many ways. He certainly hasn’t turned out to be the Panzer Pope or the Rottweiler some predicted. He has shown himself one of the great teaching Popes. Indeed, he would be a contender for the title of finest theological mind that has ever served as Pope. His gentle personal style has won the hearts of many, even if his shy, even introverted personality didn’t always sit easily with the intensely public demands of the Papacy. In John Paul II, we saw the courage of a man who refused to resign in the face of personal frailty and who lived his frailty for all the world to see. In Benedict XVI, we see the courage of a man who is prepared to resign, knowing that he no longer has the physical capacity to fulfil the role. Here again we see how strikingly different the two men were, and yet how mysteriously and magnificently they worked together – the Pole and German – for the building up of the Body of Christ around the world. We are profoundly in debt to Pope Benedict for his generosity in accepting election in old age, his wisdom in exercising the Petrine ministry through the years and his courage in laying down the burden of office as he has. His has been a long and amazing journey from young theologian at the Second Vatican Council to old Pope returning now to his books full-time. Through it all Joseph Ratzinger has been a good and faithful servant of Christ: may the Lord Jesus reward him now and into eternity with the peace he has promised.
Released by The Catholic Communications Office
February 12, 2013