January 11, 2000
volume 11, no. 7
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Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.


    VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Germany, who provoked a storm of controversy with his comments on the possibility of a papal resignation, has insisted that he was not suggesting that the Pope should resign.

    On January 9, a German television interviewer had asked Bishop Lehmann whether the Pope might consider stepping down at the age of 80, because of his declining physical condition. The bishop responded: "The Holy Father has the power to make a brave admission, saying: 'I can no longer perform my duty adequately.'" Bishop Lehmann told the audience of the "Deutschlandfunk" radio program that he felt sure "the Pope would do so if he felt he was no longer capable of guiding the Church authoritatively."

    On the following day, after his comments received front-page coverage in the Italian press, Bishop Lehmann appeared on Vatican Radio to clarify his remarks. "I never asked for the Holy Father's resignation," he said. "That would not be my style, and it would not correspond to my thinking."

    Bishop Lehmann said that the Pope appears to be "in good form, intellectually," and had taken a keen interest in the opening of the Holy Year. He added that he was quite certain Pope John Paul "would have the courage and the strength, if one day he deems it necessary, to make his own decision on this matter." The German bishop said he was "extremely upset" with the Italian reporters who had, he charged, distorted his remarks.

    The only historical precedent for a papal resignation came in the case of Pope Celestine V, who stepped down in 1294. At the time, a number of cardinals expressed doubts about the validity of that resignation, even as the conclave elected Boniface VIII.

    There have been several other historical incidents in which popes left office, always under questionable circumstances. Pope Martin I, who was exiled by the Byzantine emperor in 653, tacitly approved the election of a successor, Pope Eugene I. In 964 Pope Benedict V, often seen as an anti-pope, was deposed by Emperor Otto I, and accepted that verdict, renouncing his pontificate. Pope Sylvester III was expelled by his rival, Pope Benedict IX, in 1045; Benedict IX in turn abdicated several months later in favor of Pope Gregory VI. And in 1415, during the great Western Schism--when there were three men claiming title to Peter's throne--Pope Gregory XII voluntarily resigned after the Council of Constance.

    Pope John Paul II himself addressed the question of papal resignation in his apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, concerning the procedures for a papal conclave. The Pope cited #332 of the Code of Canon Law: "Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone."


January 11, 2000
volume 10, no. 7

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