THE wisdom of resigning from the Petrine ministry will take sometime to settle in the minds of canonists, ecclesiologists and theologians. The last pope to resign over six hundred years ago is too remote to establish a plausible precedence although, on hindsight, observers are now looking back to the 2009 third visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the tomb of Pope Celestine V in Aquila, Italy where he prayed and placed his pallium over it as symbolic, if foreboding gesture.
Pope Celestine V abdicated the papacy in 1294. Centuries later, Pope Paul VI wrote why Celestine resigned: “After a few months he understood that he was being deceived by people around him who were profiting from his inexperience….As he had accepted the supreme pontificate out of duty, so out of duty he renounced it—not out of cowardice, as Dante wrote, but out of heroic virtue, out of a sense of duty.” (cf. Joseph A. Komonchak, Benedict’s Act of Humility).
This, of course, does not allude to the supreme sacrifice of Pope Benedict XVI who explicitly pointed out age and poor health: “…I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advance age, are not longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…in order to govern the bark of 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.”
Admittedly, there is an ecclesiological significance to this pontifical act. It may be that the greatest contribution of Pope Benedict to ecclesiology is the yielding of his person to the office that he has “humanized” in the process. It may not be too un-ecclesiological to say that his retirement is some kind of magisterial teaching that trail-blazes a strand of pontificate that seriously considers the humanity of the Papacy and the existential demands of history.
Be that as it may, but according to Jaro archbishop Angel Lagdameo Benedict’s resignation sets a tone to church leaders. He says: “I feel that the resignation of the Holy Father for reasons of health and old age sets a tone for other cardinals, bishops and even priests…What we in the clergy should really think about is the good of the Church even to the point of comparing or even considering who can serve the church better.”
Or as a comment in social media puts it: “The papacy can perhaps in the minds of a billion Catholics and all others become a ministry rather than a kind of monarchy.”
Lay Participation in Social Change
FOR the past few months now, we have noted a mounting call for “moral regeneration” in our country. Not only do we welcome this; we your pastors are encouraged by the fact that this call has been coming mainly from the laity. You know that we have sounded this call too many times already in the past. Perhaps because this task is expected of us, there has been a tendency to take it for granted that we are also to carry it out by ourselves. One journalist wrote in a commentary recently, “The task of moral regeneration is too big to entrust to religious leaders alone.” We couldn’t agree more.
As your pastors, we exercise spiritual and moral leadership as regards our communal and ecclesial life in our parishes and dioceses throughout the country. But we cannot just extend that leadership into the spheres of politics and governance, in business and economics, in the sciences and the mass media, etc., without running the risk of being misconstrued as engaging in power-play or over-extending our sphere of influence beyond our offices. The participation of the laity in moral leadership pertaining to every specific discipline and institution in the Philippine society is most essential, if we want the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church to have a tangible and positive impact at all on our life as a nation.
We challenge our Catholic laity, in particular, to take the lead in the task of moral renewal towards a deeper and more lasting change in the Philippine society. We challenge all lay people involved in politics to renounce corruption and bond together in the task of evangelizing politics for effective governance and the pursuit of the common good. We challenge the laity involved in legislation to unite themselves and consciously allow their actions to be guided by the truth of the Gospel and the Christian faith. We urge the Catholic lay people involved in legitimate business to organize themselves and consciously practice their trade with a strong sense of corporate social responsibility informed by the social teachings of the Church. We enjoin all Catholic law enforcers to form associations among themselves that consciously renounce violence, respect basic human rights, and truly work for the preservation of peace and social order. We call upon the Catholic laity involved in social communications and the modern mass media to form networks among themselves that can articulate a genuinely Christian ethics in their practice of their profession. We urge every Catholic lay person to give a concrete expression to Christian discipleship through responsible citizenship.
—A Pastoral Exhortation of the CBCP on the Year of the Two Hearts
for Peace Building and Lay Participation for Social Change, 2009
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