'Resignation,' 'abdication' and worries about an 'antipope'?

I visit the Twitter-verse every now and then, but don't munch all the way through the streams of data the way some folks do. However, the Divine Mrs. MZ Hemingway does dwell therein and sent this tweet my way:

Grant Gallicho @gallicho

Hey @GetReligion, are you planning correcting your egregiously incorrect claims about the papal resignation? #pope

This shot over the bow refers, of course, to the item I put up the other day pointing GetReligion readers toward a post at the new website, “Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers your Questions.” The "guy" in question is, of course, one of the top religion-beat professionals of the late 20th Century -- Richard Ostling, now retired after decades at Time and then the Associated Press.

Ostling had stressed that the proper word for the action taken the other day by Pope Benedict XVI was "abdication," not "resignation." The Guy added:

The timing is notable, coming just before Ash Wednesday without waiting till after Holy Week. Far more amazing is the resignation itself. Like England’s monarchs or certain other religious dynasts, popes simply do not resign. The last one who did, Gregory XII, stepped down in a 1415 A.D. emergency deal to end the ruinous Great Schism with its rival pontiffs. Benedict’s move, by contrast, was purely personal. He said he “repeatedly examined my conscience before God” and decided he lacked the physical strength for “an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Now, ever since then I have followed the debates back and forth about this about the proper translations of the Latin laws, etc., etc. At this point, I think it's safe to say that the word "abdicate" is the appropriate term, but it would be a stretch say -- as I did in the headline on my post -- that "resign" has been proven wrong, or inaccurate.

In my own writing, I have been using phrases such as the "pope's decision to end his papacy" or that he decided to "step down" from St. Peter's throne. This is a case where copy desks are making their own decisions, which often happens when laws are written in one language and news copy is written in another.

The glass is kind of half full or half empty, at the moment, and I'm seeing some interesting points of view on both side.

Which raises another complex and even more interesting issue, in the eyes of some Catholic thinkers.

It's clear at this point that many Catholic insiders believe that the pope's decision to step down was not only legal, but proper in light of his health issues, energy level and the growing limitations on his ability to travel. While many Catholic progressives are in that camp -- calling this a truly revolutionary act by a conservative pope -- it would be way too simplistic to say that the Catholic left is arguing that view, to the exclusion of many more conservative Catholics.

It's on the conservative side of things that matters are getting really complex and, well, I think there are some echoes of the "abdicate" vs. "resign" debate over there. The issue, bluntly, is whether it's possible to have two men alive at the same time who have officially been given, by God, the Keys to the Kingdom. How does one "resign" a spiritual charism, a condition of spiritual being?

The Religion News Service team recently posted a link to a piece at the Italian news site called WWW.Chiesa that explored two competing visions on this side of the doctrinal aisle. One argues that it is possible, but unwise, for a pope to resign. The other takes a much more radical tact, saying that Catholics will soon -- unless Benedict changes his mind -- end up with an antipope.

Italian journalist and publisher Sandro Magister describes view No. 1 this way, looking at the work of historian Roberto de Mattei:

De Mattei does not contest the legitimacy of Benedict XVI's renunciation of the pontificate. He recognizes that “it is contemplated by canon law and has been seen historically over the centuries.” And it is also founded theologically, because it puts an end not to the power of orders conferred by the sacrament, which is indelible, but only to the power of jurisdiction.

From the historical point of view, however, de Mattei maintains that the resignation of pope Joseph Ratzinger “appears to be in absolute discontinuity with the tradition and praxis of the Church". ...

“The image of the pontifical institution, in the eyes of public opinion all over the world, would in fact be stripped of its sacrality to be handed over to the criteria of judgment of modernity.” And this would achieve the objective repeatedly set forth by Hans Küng and other progressive theologians: that of reducing the pope “to the president of a board of administration, to a purely arbitral role, accompanied by a permanent synod of bishops with deliberative powers.”

Oh my, did Pope Benedict XVI really hand a major victory to one of his old theological sparring partners?

Wait, there's more -- in the views of philosopher and theologian Enrico Maria Radaelli:

The title of the commentary leaves no room for doubt: "Why pope Ratzinger-Benedict XVI should withdraw his resignation. It is not yet the time for a new pope, because it would be that of an antipope.”

Radaelli moves from the words of the risen Jesus to the apostle Peter, in chapter 21 of the gospel of John. He gathers from this that “the cross is the status of every Christian” and therefore “rebelling against one's status, rejecting a grace received, would appear to be for a Christian a grave offense against the virtue of hope, against the grace and the supernatural value of accepting one's human condition, all the more grave if the condition involves roles 'in sacris,' as is the condition, of all the most eminent, of pope.” ...

It is true -- Radaelli acknowledges -- that canon 333 of the code of canon law establishes that a pope has the power to resign, “but I say that not even the pope has such power, because it would be the exercise of an absolute power that contrasts with being one's very self.” And “it is impossible even for God” not to be what he is.

Needless to say, we will probably hear a bit more about this in the days ahead.

You think?

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