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Aktuelle Berichte aus Brasilien – Politik, Kultur und Naturschutz

“Popes also resign.” Dominikaner Frei Betto, Brasiliens wichtigster Befreiungstheologe.


Frei Betto*

“The pope does not get sick before he dies” says a Roman proverb. John Paul II, a man of the media, was not afraid to exhibit his infirmity to the eyes of the world. Now Benedict XVI shows humility and, admitting the limitations of his precarious state of health, announces that he will resign on the last day of February 2013.



In the Church’s history four popes resigned the Petrine ministry: Benedict IX (1st May 1045), Gregory VI (20th December 1046), Celestine V (13th December 1294) and Gregory XII (4th July 1415). Benedict XVI will be the fifth after 28th February.

Benedict IX was consecrated pope when he was 20, in 1032. He was not known for ethical and much less moral issues. His life was a scandal for the Church. The Roman people expelled him from the city in 1044. The following year he returned and occupied the throne of Peter resigning months later. He returned to the papacy in 1047, and was definitively deposed that year.

John Gratian, Benedict IX’s godfather, paid a considerable amount of money for his godson to concede his place to him. He was elected pope in May 1045 and adopted the name Gregory VI governing the Church until December 1046, when his godson ousted him accusing him of simony.

When Nicholas IV died in 1292, Italian and French cardinals turned the consistory into a struggle for power moved more by political interests than by the light of the Holy Spirit. After an impasse of two years and three months in the election of the new pope, Pedro Morrone, an Italian hermit, sent a letter to the consistory from his cave in the mountains, asking them not to abuse divine patience.

The cardinals saw in the letter a sign from God and decided to make the monk the new head of the Church. Pedro Morrone resisted, he did not want to abandon his life of poverty and silence, but the prelates convinced him that the consensus around his name would pull the Church out of the impasse.

With the name Celestine V, he became pope in August 1294. Less than four months later,  Vatican petty politics exhausted his resistance. Consulting those who had voted for him, he raised the taboo question: can a pope resign?

The cardinal college was not opposed and, in a historic bull, Morrone justified himself, alleging that he would leave the throne of Peter in order to preserve his physical and spiritual health. On 13th December of that year he returned to contemplative solitude in the  mountains. 20 years later he was canonized, exalted as an example of sanctity. The Church celebrates the feast of St. Peter Celestine on 19th May.

Pope Gregory XII also resigned, at the start of the 15th century – during a time when three popes claimed legitimacy – so as to avoid the schism in the Church from deepening.

Joseph Ratzinger, the present Benedict XVI, is above all a theologian. Whilst pope, he did not stop writing, he even launched a trilogy on Jesus. Papal authors are rare, when we consider that  pontifical documents like encyclicals, bulls and allocutions are usually written by advisors.

Intellectuals in general are not good in positions of power. Administrative matters appear to be tiresome when there are so many books to be read or written. Politicians want to administrate, intellectuals want to create. Ratzinger perhaps decided to set aside whatever time he has left in this life to withdraw himself for prayer and theological production.

Now the most subtle election campaign begins: the election of a successor to Benedict XVI. Amongst the present 209 cardinals in the Catholic Church, 118 have the right to vote, for they have not reached the age of 80.

There are five Brazilians amongst those who can vote: Geraldo Magella, archbishop emeritus of Salvador (79), Cláudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of São Paulo (78), Raymundo Damasceno, cardinal archbishop of Aparecida (76), João Braz Avis, former archbishop of Brasilia, at present in Rome as Prefect for the Congregation for Consecrated Life (64) and Odilo Scherer, cardinal archbishop of Sao Paulo (63).

For certain the new pope will make his first papal visit to Rio de Janeiro in July 2013 for World Youth Day.

*Frei Betto is a writer, author of “Um homem chamado Jesus” (A Man called Jesus) (Rocco).

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Mittwoch, 13. Februar 2013 um 18:59 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde unter der Kategorie Politik abgelegt. Du kannst die Kommentare zu diesen Eintrag durch den RSS-Feed verfolgen.

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