WWROD: No, Pope Benedict XVI did not 'resign'

To my shock, no one out in cyberspace filed a pope-retirement question over at veteran religion-reporter Richard Ostling's handy new website, "Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers your Questions." Come on folks! The retired Time and Associated Press scribe is out there willing to give you input on the kinds of news-related questions that often pop up here in the GetReligion comments pages. Ostling wants to provide basic info. Take him up on it!

Lacking a question from a reader, Ostling provided his own topic.

The obvious topic for the day: The decision by the elderly Pope Benedict XVI to abdicate -- not resign -- the Throne of St. Peter.

Yes, "resign" is easier to fit into news headlines. The problem is that a pope has no one to resign to, other than God. The correct word is "abdicate."

This passage struck me as especially interesting. Take it away, Ostling:

The Guy leaves it to expert Vaticanologists to assess this Pope’s accomplishments during a reign of just under eight years. But the resignation will surely be regarded as his most significant act. A highly traditional priest has taken a highly radical step. He may be implicitly questioning his close colleague and predecessor John Paul II, who felt a duty during decline to hang on till death.

Regardless, Benedict has forever changed his sacred office. All future popes will face the question of abdication when they reach a phase of physical or mental limitations. The resignation signals to the world Benedict’s awareness that John Paul permanently altered expectations for the ancient office. Popes are now globe-trotters and media stars, not the mysterious and remote figures of old. And in the age of the Internet and cable news, important policy moves (e.g. how to handle those unending and dispiriting priestly molestation scandals) can no longer to delayed for months -- or years.

In short, a revolutionary act by a very traditional Catholic leader.

How long ago was it that he went live on Twitter?

That was 34 tweets ago, back in December. Maybe he decided to give up social media for Lent and, once he thought that over, he carried his concept to its logical conclusion. Thus, @Pontifex has been silent this week.

Read it all (including The Guy's personal memory of interviewing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger).

However, the veteran Godbeat reporter did offer this piece of advice to journalists ramping up to cover what newsrooms assume is the race to fill St. Peter's throne.

When John Paul died, countless supposed specialists -- The Guy included -- figured the then Cardinal Ratzinger would never be elected. He was too controversial due to efforts on discipline while heading the Vatican’s doctrine office, too close to his predecessor, a bit too old, a bit too German, and on and on.

Keep that in mind during coming days as papal pundits speculate on who’s in and who’s out in the pre-election maneuvering./blockquote>

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