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The Papal Resignation: Blessing or Catastrophe?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 26, 2013

With the Church still reeling in its immediate aftermath, what are we to make of Pope Benedict XVI's almost unprecedented “retirement” from the Petrine office? I say almost unprecedented because there is one clearly pertinent precedent: Pope St. Celestine V, the canonized pope whose tomb and relics Pope Benedict tellingly visited in 2009-2010, leaving his pallium at the tomb in April 2009, as if to signal what he has now done.

Three schools of thought have already arisen regarding Pope Benedict's abdication. The first holds that it is a catastrophe, because it reduces the papacy to a merely terrestrial office whose holder can simply resign at will in the manner of a CEO who steps down to “pursue other interests,” as the corporate press release so often says. The enemies of the Catholic Church, of course, are delighted with this reading of the event.

There is a sense among the adherents of this school that the Pope has abandoned his flock, and indeed the Pope was at pains to declare precisely that his decision “does not mean abandoning the Church,” but rather “continu[ing] to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength.” But is this not an admission that the Pope has fled from adversity? One must not make rash conclusions, however.

The second view is that the Pope's decision was a courageous act by which, humbly accepting his own limitations, he stepped aside so that a younger, stronger successor could clean a house that is in frightful disarray and filled with corruption. Here the parallel with the case of Pope St. Celestine is instructive. The incompetence of that sainted pontiff has been forgiven by the memory of the Church because, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, he was an “inexperienced and simple-minded recluse” who realized that his presence on the Throne of Peter was harming the Church.

But the same can hardly be said of Benedict, an intellectual with vast experience in the Vatican bureaucracy. Yet the rationale for both papal abdications seems the same, as expressed in Pope Celestine's decree of abdication (referring to himself in the third person): “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.”

The third view, to which I subscribe, does not attribute the abdication of Benedict XVI to simple weakness in the face of adversity — a craven abandonment of his mission — nor simply to the noble gesture of turning over the Keys of Peter to a stronger, abler leader in order to prevent further harm to the Church.

No, there is more. As I have written elsewhere, this Pope, who is still capable of delivering a fifty-minute extemporaneous speech in defense of Vatican II, while yet acknowledging its disastrous aftermath, knows that something wicked this way comes, and that it is ordained by Providence that his successor must deal with it. Indeed, the wicked thing has long since arrived. It arrived through the bronze doors of Saint Peter's, which opened and closed the Council. It is that “veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking” Pope Paul VI admitted was a consequence of the Council's monumentally imprudent “opening to the world.”

I agree with Antonio Socci that Pope Benedict, having read the Third Secret — the whole Secret, not just the enigmatic vision a “Bishop dressed in White” without the Blessed Virgin's explanation — has acted on the basis of a foresight not available to the rest of us. Knowing what the full Secret foretells, but unable to reveal its hidden portion because his “collaborators” have conveniently ruled it to be inauthentic and the world would ridicule its contents, the Pope has nonetheless acted on the basis of what he has seen in the light of Fatima.

In this regard, Socci cites an astounding vision of Pope Saint Pius X in 1909: “What I have seen is terrible! Will it be me or one of my successors? I saw a Pope fleeing the Vatican, walking amidst the bodies of his priests. He will take refuge somewhere, incognito, and after a brief time he will die a violent death.”

Is this not essentially what we see in the vision published in 2000: a fugitive Pope being executed on a hill outside a ruined city filled with the dead? Pope Benedict knows that the Secret foretells, as he warned us in 2010, “future realities of the Church which are little by little developing and revealing themselves...”

What does Pope Benedict know that we do not? Is he the Pope who is killed outside the ruined city “after a brief time” in hiding? Will the world soon suffer the chastisement the vision evidently depicts? Will Benedict's successor restore the Church and perform at last the saving Consecration of Russia?

I suspect that we will learn the answers to these questions very soon. We will learn that this papal abdication is both a catastrophe and a blessing, for God will never permit any evil unless, respecting human free will, He can draw from it an ultimate greater good: “In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And indeed it was Benedict himself, speaking at Fatima, who pointed ahead to that very triumph — but not during his pontificate.