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Scott P. Richert

The Pope Resigns: "He Never Wanted to Be Pope"

By February 11, 2013

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One trope common to many of the news stories and commentary regarding Pope Benedict's announcement of his resignation is the claim that "He never wanted to be pope."Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the United Nations headquarters April 18, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images) While it is true that Pope Benedict's brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger, and others have confirmed this statement over the years since the Holy Father's election on April 19, 2005, its use in this situation seems to suggest that Pope Benedict resigned, at least in part, because he's never been comfortable in the office.

Perhaps that is true, but I doubt it. Rather, Pope Benedict's lack of desire to become pope was a reflection of the sentiments that led him to proclaim, after his election, that no one was more surprised than he. An intensely private man, more at home in reading and writing books than in engaging in papal politics, Joseph Ratzinger is also remarkably humble for a man who made it to the highest office in a 2,000-year-old institution that represents over a billion members.

That such a man never wanted to be pope is understandable; that he would resign the papacy for that reason is not. In fact, quite the opposite: Pope Benedict's humility flows from his faith, and that same faith made it clear to him that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit to be the Vicar of Christ. In accordance with that choice, he has thrown himself enthusiastically into his pontificate, accomplishing more in just under eight years than many other popes have in twice that long.

It is a mistake to think of Pope Benedict's decision in worldly terms. There is every reason to believe that he believes the fullness of what the Catholic Church teaches—including about the operation of the Holy Spirit in his election. And that is why it is a great disservice to the Holy Father to suggest that his resignation would flow from a lack of desire to be pope.

Pope Benedict's decision to resign could not be an easy one, precisely because he had to wonder if, in doing so, he was flouting the will of the Holy Spirit. To suggest, even with the best of intentions, that it flowed in part from a lack of desire to be pope is to dismiss the spiritual struggle that Pope Benedict must have faced over the past several months while making this decision.

Beyond that, as the College of Cardinals prepares to convene to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, we might consider this question: Should Catholics really want a pope who really wants to be pope, rather than one who, in humility, accepts the decision of the Holy Spirit? We had such men in the Renaissance, and despite the best efforts of certain triumphalist Catholic historians to paint their pontificates in a positive light, the reality was quite different.

Let us hope and pray that the next man elected as the Successor of Peter doesn't want to be pope, either.

(Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the United Nations headquarters April 18, 2008 in New York City. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

More on Pope Benedict's Resignation:

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February 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm
(1) Anita says:

Thank you for your comments on the resignation of Pope Benedict. As always, you provide great insight on difficult to comprehend matters.

February 12, 2013 at 2:49 am

Thank God for people like you who is there to keep records straight. The holy father did not resing out of any controvacy but willinly based on His present phisical strength. This shows wonderfull the church is. No internal ort external political presure. God bless the catholic church Amen

February 12, 2013 at 10:41 am
(3) Grisel says:

I so admire the Holy Father for his honesty and humility. Some friends & family believe he is ill, Alzheimer’s, cancer. I don’t agree. The modern world places extreme physical demands on him which may exceed his capabilities. He finds himself unable to keep up with the worldly demands of a XXI Century Papacy & fears how it might affect the Church, that is, each and everyone of us.. May his new role, the praying, interceding retired Pope bring Peace and Love not only to Catholics but to humankind.

February 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm
(4) Gatomon41 says:

Thanks Scott for your article. When I heard the news today, I was not only shocked, but really sadden by the news. The world seems to get darker day after day, and this was not helping. But at least insightful commentary clears out the uncertainty and confusion these days.

I hope Pope Benedict is well – I worry that the strains of leadership may be too much. May God watch over him and the Church during these times.

February 16, 2013 at 8:40 am
(5) Honest L Msoffe says:

He is Peter the Rock, the one Jesus promised to build the church on. But he is also a human being who fails sometimes, who gets tired who wear out. Even when he resign on his shoulder he bears the Papacy tasks. The one who will come after him will have easy starts, because the one before him still lives.
Lets thanks our Lord Jesus Christ for that.

March 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm
(6) Archangelo Adup Anyuat says:

The resignation of Pope has brought a lot of worries and wonders to the Catholics. I was a catholic for 22 yrs and later changed to Jehovah Witness due to some politics in the church by the priests themselves.

They preach wat they do not practice and that does not make any sense.

Jesus showed us by action as St. James said, faith without action is dead.

Pope might resigns because of some political things around and only age and health were mentioned to why Pope resigned.

Pope John Paul the second died at the age of 100

March 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm
(7) Archangelo Adup Anyuat says:

May God bless and give my bros and srs catholics a new young pope

March 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm
(8) Rolando E. Díaz Olivo, M.D. says:

The fact that Pope Benedict XVI was able to exercise his free will upon resigning from the papacy, proves that the Holy Spirit lives in him. The Holy Spirit will choose his successor. We have to rejoice. There is nothing to fear.

April 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm
(9) Rosolen says:

People!!! Open your eye and see! There is much more to the Pope’s resignation than what has been published. The Vatican is a place for secrecy- not holiness. There are more secrets trapped inside than one can imagine.

March 8, 2014 at 8:59 am
(10) Archangelo Adup Anyuat says:

Where is Pope Benedict the XVI staying now since he resigned from papacy?

I also ask pope Francis to pray for peace in South Sudan and for God to send us good and just and strong leader

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