Vanguard (Lagos)

12 February 2013

Nigeria: Now, the Mortal Pope

CATHOLICS  more than 1.2 billion people round the world – would be astounded to learn Pope Benedict XVI resigned. They would have great reasons to fall into this flux.

The last resignation of a pope was 598 years ago - none of today's Catholics was around then. The most important would be the infallibility of the Pope; many do not see the Pope in human terms.

Circumstances of that resignation are barely ennobling for the church to mention them. No Pope has resigned in modern times, and the last one to leave the post was Pope Gregory XII on July 4, 1415 - 598 years ago.

He resigned following conflicts in the church that resulted in the election of three popes - Gregory XII in Rome, Benedict XIII in Avignon, in modern day France and John XXIII in Pisa, Italy.

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," Benedict XVI, the first German pope in 1,000 years, said in a statement that highlights the humanity of the Pope, but would assail most Catholics who are sold on the infallibility of the Pope, often mistaking it for the Pope not falling to human frailties.

Petrine is a widely held Catholic reference and belief that popes came from a long line of succession traced to Apostle Peter, the man Jesus Christ anointed His successor more than 2,000 years ago.

Papal infallibility was promulgated at the First Vatican Council in 1870. It states, "Faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith ... we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith and morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiffs are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church."

Infallibility has been stretched to make the Pope seem above human frailties such that it has ensconced the church and the papacy, saving both from conflicts that riddled the early church.

Benedict's decision should be accepted for its boldness and his courage, at a time most would have carried on till death. He has, however, thrown the church into new "tradition".

A new pope would be elected with a former pope living. How would they relate to each other? Would the College of Cardinals recommend a retirement age for popes? We are again at the early ages of an old church.

At 85, Pope Benedict the XVI has taken a decision that none of his predecessors who died in office would have contemplated. John Paul II, who he succeeded, died at 85 and he lived out his final years with public attention on his failing health.

For a church steeped in tradition, Benedict XVI has added another chapter to the papacy.

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