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On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.
Cardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. […] I must say I have very good memories of him.
His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”
Bishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.
We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”
Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”
In Dutch, for a change: comments on Pope Benedict’s abdication from Father Rolf Wagenaar, administrator of the cathedral of St. Joseph, Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and parish priest of yours truly:
“The Pope’s retiring? That’s impossible. It hasn’t let go of me since then, of course. A shock, not only for me, but for everyone, I think, and certainly for all the Catholics in the world.”
Now that we have gotten somewhat used to yesterday’s news, and all speculation has, well, not died down, but channeled into a few set directions, here’s a look at the major players in the coming sede vacante period.
The Apostolic Penitentiary, concerned with questions of conscience from the faithful and the pressing matters related to it, will continue to function during the sede vacante. Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, who leads the office, will remain in office likewise.
- Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (pictured) will remain on as Camerlengo. He will head the management of the goods and finances of the Holy See. He will also chair the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals for the daily affairs of the Church. Upon the election of the new pope, he will accompany him to the papal apartments and hand him the keys. Cardinal Bertone will also declare the result of every ballot during the conclave. Upon his invitation, the cardinals will meet for discussion and reflection when needed. The vice-chamberlain, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, will work with him outside the conclave.
- The cleric prelates of the Apostolic Chamber will assist the Camerlengo. They are Msgr. Assunto Scotti, Msgr. Luigi Cerchiaro, Msgr. Paolo Luca Braida (Italians all), Msgr. Philip James Whitmore (British), Msgr. Winfried König (German), Msgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida (Argentinian) and Msgr. Krzysztof Józef Nykiel (Polish).
- During the sede vacante, the archpriests of the papal basilicas will take over the Pope’s liturgical duties. They are Cardinal Agostino Vallini (pictured) for St. John Lateran, Cardinal Angelo Comastri for St. Peter’s, Cardinal James Harvey for St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls and Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló for St. Mary Major.
- Also involved in the papal liturgies during the sede vacante are the Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, and the Almoner of His Holiness, Archbishop Guido Pozzo.
- The pastoral care of the Diocese of Rome will be the responsibility of the Vicars-General: Cardinal Agostino Vallini. for Rome and Cardinal Angelo Comastri for the Vatican City State.
- After the cardinals have entered the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, and after they have all taken the oath, Msgr. Guido Marini will call “Extra omnes!”. He will distribute the ballot papers to the cardinals and then leave the chapel..
- Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, in place of the Cardinal-Dean (Cardinal Sodano is 85 and therefore too old to take part in the conclave), will announce the start of the first ballot after any remaining questions have been answered. Cardinal Re will also ask the newly elected Pope if he accepts his election. If Cardinal Re himself is elected, that task falls to Cardinal Bertone.
- Cardinal James Harvey (pictured), as the junior Cardinal-Deacon, will lock the doors of the Sistine Chapel before the first ballot. He will be responsible for who enters and leaves during the voting: assistants to those cardinals who may be too ill to be in the Sistine Chapel can leave and return to collect those cardinals’ ballots.
- Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, as the College of Cardinals’ Protodeacon (the most senior Cardinal-Deacon) will have the honour to announce the “habemus papam” to the masses on St. Peter’s Square.
The Curia of the Church will in many ways cease to function once the Pope has abdicated. Only some pressing matters may be handled by the College of Cardinals, but she is not allowed to do anything that is normally under a Pope’s authority.
Following the example of many other leaders, Catholic and otherwise, the Dutch bishops also released a statement following Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would resign at the end of this month. Below follows the text in my translation.
Before this official statement, Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, shared his own thoughts about the news. He noted how the Holy Father clearly seemed very fatigued when he last met the Holy Father in September.
“Today we received the news about the resignation, at the end of this month, of Pope Benedict XVI. As for so many others, this news was a surprise to us.
The Holy Father announced that his resignation would take effect on Thursday 28 February at 8pm. His age and health are the decisive reasons for this radical and historical decision.
Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest theologians in the Catholic world of the second half of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. His knowledge is not only limited to dogmatics, which he taught in his younger years, but extends over the entire field of theology. This was also expressed in his encyclicals, other letters and addresses as contributions to the magisterium of the Church. He also showed himself a true shepherd of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, then, has played a role in the Roman Catholic Church which should not be underestimated. We are very grateful for his pontificate.
In his statement, Pope Benedict XVI also announced the conclave in which a new Pope will be elected. Cardinal Eijk will participate in this conclave.
At the age of 78, Cardinal Ratzinger heard the call of the Lord and accepted the highest office in the Church. Now, almost 8 years later, he decided to retire. We pray for Pope Benedict, that he may be richly “blessed” by God, also after his resignation.”
Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam also expressed his surprise at today’s news. He expressed the hope that the Pope would continue to travel with us in prayer, “in the pilgrimage that our life on earth most deeply is”. He asked all faithful in the diocese to pray for Pope Benedict and the Church.
Come the evening of 28 February, the Church will have to make do without a Supreme Pontiff. For how long, we don’t know, and it is certainly a different situation than the last time this happened.
A pope stepping down, a conclave without mourning a deceased Holy Father, but with the all the chaos, temporary suspensions of functions and preparations to gather all the cardinals and prepare the Sistine Chapel that come with the election of a new pope.
So what can we expect in the coming weeks, which will certainly be interesting, emotional and exciting?
Things will change at the time that Pope Benedict XVI has indicated: 8pm on Thursday 28 February. At that time, he will no longer be pope, and the See of Peter will be officially vacant. Pope Benedict XVI will then no longer be called that, although it remains to be seen how we will refer to him in the future. The former Pope will remove to Castel Gandolfo and, at a later date, he will take up residence in a monastery within the Vatican walls.
A limited set of duties normally held by the Pope, will fall to the College of Cardinals. The heads of the Curial offices will resign as well, although they will be reinstated by the new pope, as is standard. The exceptions are Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as Camerlengo – he will continue to manage the properties of the Church; Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro as Major Penitentiary; and all Holy See representatives across the world. The vicars-general of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinals Angelo Comastri and Agostino Vallini, will also continue in their pastoral duties.
The major event of the sede vacante will of course be the conclave to elect the new Pope. During today’s press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi said that this will take place in mid-March, and we’ll have a new Pope before Easter. Barring any deaths, 117 cardinal electors will travel to Rome to participate in the conclave.
Several cardinals and other officials will have specific duties in the conclave. The Dean of the College Cardinals, being over 80, will not be present, so his duties will be taken over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. Also accompanying the cardinals will be Msgr. Guido Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies. He will lock the door of the Sistine Chapel, after calling “Extra omnes!”, “Everybody (who is not an elector), out!”. Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary of the College of Cardinals, will also be present. Neither of them will, however, attend the actual voting.
The conclave may take several days and will take place in utter secrecy. Although the electors are not obliged to elect one of their own, they most probably will. On this page I provide a list of members of the College of Cardinals. The names in bold are those of cardinal electors at this moment. One name will be removed from that list, as Cardinal Lubomyr Husar will reach the age of 80 before the Pope’s retirement. A closer look at the electors and some guesses about the future will follow later.
Photo credit:  Visibly aged since his election, Pope Benedict pictured during a visit to a seminary in Rome, last week.
I don’t know what to say… Pope Benedict XVI today announced his retirement…
“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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
Considering my speechlessness at this moment, I can only express my gratitude and affection for our Holy Father. Thank you.
Called a “zealous pastor” by Pope Benedict XVI, Giovanni Cardinal Cheli swapped the temporal for the eternal last night, after 94 years of life spent for the most part in service to “the Gospel and to the Church”. The College of Cardinals, of which Cardinal Cheli was a non-voting member, now number 209, with 118 of them electors.
Giovanni Cheli was born in Turin and was ordained for the Diocese of Asti in 1942, after obtaining a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. In Asti, he worked as chaplain to the youth section of Catholic Action, and also taught at the diocesan seminary. In 1952, after a time working in Rome and earning a licentiate in theology, Fr. Cheli entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1952.
His first posting was in Guatemala, followed by Spain and Italy. In Madrid, he performed pastoral work in addition to his duties in the nunciature. In 1967, Fr. Cheli was assigned to the Council for Public Affairs of the Church. In 1973, he became permanent observer to the United Nations, an assignment which was confirmed again in 1976. In 1978, he was once of the few bishops consecrated by Pope John Paul I. Archbishop was renowned as an expert on the Church’s issues in relations with the Communist nations.
Archbishop Cheli was appointed as Pro-President of the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which would became a pontifical council in 1988, still under the leadership of Archbishop Cheli.
Shortly before his retirement in 1998, Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal, with the deaconry of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Ten years later, Cardinal Cheli became a cardinal priest with the same title church.
Outspokenly critical on many issues, Cardinal Cheli protested the US invasion of Iraq in 2001, the age limits for cardinals and some of the curial appointments of Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Cheli was among the five oldest cardinals of the Church.
Twice today did unexpected statements from Church leaders make headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner was deceived into stating that the morning after pill would be allowable in some cases, or so a leading physician claimed. And the Pontifical Council for the Family’s Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) spoke against discrimination of homosexuals and the rights of those who live together in other ways that marriage, which was picked up by some as if it was some major change in Church teaching. Archbishop Paglia also stated that his words were manipulated.
While many media undoubtedly have an agenda in reporting on the Church and what she teaches, I think this also points towards a problem that still exists in Church communication, both on the global and the local levels: We simply are not clear enough.
Archbishop Paglia’s situation certainly points in that direction, while Cardinal Meisner’s is more a case of acting on incorrect information. In both cases, however, we may speak of communication gone wrong. Whether the miscommunication is based on misinformation or a lack of clarity is secondary.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the cardinal and the archbishop for their efforts to clarify Catholic teaching. I simply that more care is in order when such efforts are undertaken. Ours is a message that is quite specific and not always easily grasped in a headline or quote. If we want to share the Good News, we must not only take it into account, but also our audience, and that audience is one used to short sound bytes and catchy headlines. Careful academic expositions about some sensitive subject (such as contraception, sexuality or marriage) have their place and audience, but do not always, or rather rarely, translate well into the media
Instead of limiting ourselves to lamenting the state of modern media, we must make use of it. It is a tool that we too can, and should, use. And that use includes guarding ourselves against possible misinterpretation, having ways to efficiently correct media and audience if necessary, and having the knowledge available to communicate what is true.
“The power church in 2013 remains legalistic, massive and obsessively occupied with trivialities such as the denial of women priests and the defense of celibacy.”
So speaks Fr. Jan Wuyts, retired dean of Louvain in Belgium, in an interview for Christian magazine Tertio. And how heartily I disagree with him. The topics he mentions – women priests and the abolishment of celibacy for priests – are the hobby horses of the modernist movements that he seems to represent. The Church as a whole, while admittedly massive and often slow to react, has long since spoken authoritatively on these matters. There is no obsessive occupation, except in the minds of the likes of Fr. Wuyts and for those in the Church who are tasked with explaining, time and again, what the Church has always taught about matters.
Blessed John Paul II has stated several times that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination”. Likewise, the Church has consistently handled the topic of celibacy as a factual and beneficial element of the priesthood. There is obsession in neither issue, except on the part of those who want the Church to change what either can’t be changed, or where there is no good reason to change it at this time.
Fr. Wuyts’ words are a reflection on his own words and actions, and not on those of the Church.