Abdication ‘will modernise papacy’
THE ABDICATION of Pope Benedict XVI will modernize the papacy, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams believes, and will invigorate the call to service to the church and the world for the occupant of the chair of St Peter.
In an interview broadcast on 12 February Lord Williams, the Master of Magdalene College Cambridge, stated Benedict’s resignation may “demystify the papacy,” challenging the view the “pope is not like a sort of God King who goes on to the very end.”
The “ministry of service that the Bishop of Rome exercises is just that, a ministry of service and it’s therefore reasonable to ask if there is a moment when somebody else should take that baton in hand,” he said.
Benedict’s decision serves to remind the Christian world of the “primitive position of the bishop of Rome as the servant of the unity of the Church, of the bishop who convenes, mediates between, manages the fellowship of the bishops, that slightly more functional, slightly less theologically top-heavy picture, that may be one of the things that emerges from this.”
While the process to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury took almost six months, the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Constitution calls for a Conclave of Cardinals to begin within 20 days but not before 15 days, following the declaration the chair of St Peter was “sede vacante”. However, Vatican press spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said last week the Conclave could start within 10 days of the date of the Pope’s formal resignation – 28 February in light of the unusual circumstances of the Pope’s abdication.
As of 28 January, 118 cardinals were eligible to vote for the next pope – 62 Europeans, 19 South Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and 1 from the Pacific. The largest national group of cardinals is Italy with 28, followed by the US with 11, Germany with 6 and Spain and Brazil with 5.
Lord Williams said the announcement “wasn’t a total surprise, I think because in our last conversation I was very conscious that he was recognising his own frailty and it did cross my mind to wonder whether this was a step he might think about.”
In retirement he hoped Benedict would return to writing. “We look for some more profound and reflective theology from him, of the kind that’s made his encyclicals so wonderfully fruitful as a resource for the whole Christian family.”
He added that he had shared with Benedict his plans to retire before the news was shared with the Anglican Communion. “I’d spoken to him before I’d announced my resignation earlier in the year, so we shared some reflections on the pressures of office and, yes, we spoke about the promise of being able to do a bit more thinking, and praying… because by the grace of God we’ve enjoyed a warm relationship, so it was possible for me to share that with him earlier in the year.”
Lord Williams agreed Benedict’s resignation might well further the call made by John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint to rethink the papacy in the service of unity for all Christians. “It will be very interesting to see,” he told Vatican Radio, adding “I think we have yet to work through all the implications of Ut Unum Sint and if this is a stimulus to do some more work on that, I’d say well and good.”