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Professor credits Pope’s decision

Jillian Barwick | Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Joseph Incandela, associate dean of faculty and the Hank Aquinas Chair in Catholic theology, said he shared many Catholics’ surprise at the Pope’s resignation announcement but that in some ways, it was not completely unexpected.
“I think everyone was surprised, even people that earn their living as Vatican watchers, and who wouldn’t be because something like this doesn’t happen,” Incandela said. “After the initial reaction, there are some traces where this was forecast, making it less surprising. [Pope Benedict XVI] talked about this in a 2010 book that he wrote, not so much in relation to himself, but he sort of flowed into the possibility about a pope retiring if there were physical incapacities or something along those lines.”
Incandela added that for people who have been watching the Pope closely, he seems to have slowed down within the past year or so.
“I looked around online about [the resignation] and when Pope John Paul II died, he was 84, so he was actually younger than Benedict XVI is now,” Incandela said. “Now clearly he is in better health than John Paul II was at this age, but I wonder if the move for Benedict XVI from 84 to 85 was coupled with what he saw of John Paul II at the end, which was a long, slow decline that was obviously immensely painful, not just for John Paul II but for the Church as well.”
Incandela gave Pope Benedict XVI credit for his resignation while his health is in decline.
“He is resigning because he thinks it is in the best interest of the Church,” he said. “When you think that 85 is not that old anymore because of medical advances, you could think of someone living in years and years of really debilitated, potentially incapacitated, health.”
As for what will occur during the waiting period between now and when the Pope steps down and a new pope is elected, Incandela said the Church will be at somewhat of a standstill.
“Nothing happens when the organizational structure has no one at the top,” he said. “When you see all of the pieces it does make sense, I think.”
Since a papal resignation has not occurred in centuries, Incandela stressed how different this procedure will be from the more recent papal elections.
“This is completely new ground for anyone that is alive today. What usually happens is that a pope dies and the Cardinals go to Rome for the funeral. This makes the in between period after the death and before the election relatively short,” Incandela said. “The Cardinals go to Rome for the funeral and then remain until the new pope is elected. It is fairly compressed. Usually when a pope is near death, people are not talking about the next conclave, it’s just unseemly.
“Here’s a very different situation where someone is not dying on the last day of office, but saying that February 28 is the final day and 8 p.m. is the final hour. It is more reasonable that the machinery could get going now without insulting anyone’s memory.”
While this may be a new situation for anyone alive today, there is a sentence in the Code of Canon Law which states that a pope must resign his office freely.
“They want to avoid any sense of coercion into retirement for a pope. So that’s why in his statement he really went out of his way to make sure that came across,” Incandela said. “That was the only thing he had to say. Beyond that, there’s no sense of what a pope does to retire.”
While there will be no new pope until the conclave concludes, the Dean of the College of Cardinals is technically the first among equals during this time, Incandela said.
“The Dean of the College of Cardinals is basically the person that runs the show between now and the election of the new pope. In 2005, that person was Joseph Ratzinger, which is kind of an odd coincidence of him being elected after holding that position,” Incandela said. “Technically the dean is the first among equals, but the Church can’t do anything now without a pope. It’s just really a matter of running the day-to-day bureaucracy of the place.”
As for what Benedict will do once he has left office, Incandela can only speculate.
“I’ve read in a few places that he is going into a cloistered monastery within the Vatican to live with nuns. But wherever he ends up, I expect he will keep an extremely low profile,” Incandela said. “Benedict XVI has always been a scholar, writing several books during his papacy, so I imagine he will remain a scholar after he leaves office. But then again, who knows.”