Fairfield University Religious Studies faculty members comment on the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign


Image: PopeNancy Dallavalle, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Religious Studies who has taught a course about the papacy, is chair of the Department of Religious Studies. She wrote about Pope Benedict's U.S. visit for The National Catholic Reporter. She describes herself as "a systematic theologian, which means that my thinking about God leads me to think about what it means to be human in this world, and vice-versa."

"It is perhaps not surprising that Benedict chose the controlled route of a resignation rather than the more operatic event of dying on stage - although in doing so he denies us the proper funeral that would serve as punctuation to his reign. Perhaps, with this precedent, he wishes to lower the temperature around all things papal, having found the overheated environment of John Paul II to be good for foot traffic but not so helpful for the work of the Church.

 Benedict surprised us all, as we found him to be a bit less confrontational and a bit more nostalgic than the "Rottweiler" image portended. He did not shirk his duty, to the point of taking the decision to resign upon himself without, seemingly, much consultation. Yet the duties themselves remain - such a sudden resignation allows for little processing time as the Cardinals eye one another for the next round, in which the urgent and practical needs of a global Church jockey for position with the "culture of life" crisis in the West. One might wish that this decision could be a few years hence. But it comes now."
- Dr. Nancy Dallavalle


Paul F. Lakeland, Ph.D., the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies, is the director of Fairfield University's Center for Catholic Studies. He is the author of "The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church," awarded the 2004 Catholic Press Association Award for Best Book in Theology. He also received the Catholic Press Association Award (3rd place) in the social concerns category for "Catholicism at the Crossroads," in 2008.

"The decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign his papacy on February 28 is just the latest surprise in his pontificate. Benedict has at different times confounded liberals and conservatives, and he has certainly lived out his papacy in a real but muted challenge to that of his predecessor, John Paul II. While John Paul was larger than life, Benedict set out to be "just the pope," eschewing much media attention in part because his temperament made it unappealing to him, but also in part because he understood the papacy differently. For Benedict, being pope was about being an able Church leader, neither a celebrity nor a figurehead. Hence, the retirement is entirely understandable as the action of a man who knows that he can no longer fulfill the office as he would wish to. It is also surely not irrelevant the he watched the decline of John Paul II at close quarters and saw the dysfunctions that crept into the Vatican as John Paul's health and vigor declined. This last significant act of his papacy may be the most important thing Benedict has ever done. After 600 years without an example, he has introduced the possibility of a pope resigning for reasons of health or old age, or perhaps for other causes too."
 - Dr. Paul F. Lakeland

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 12, 2013

Vol. 45, No.