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Pope Pondering Resignation? Benedict Visits Tomb of Pontiff Who Stepped Down

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Pope Benedict XVI visited on Sunday the tomb of a 13th-century predecessor who abdicated the papal throne in 1294 at age 85. But Benedict, who is 83 and has been under siege over the clergy sex abuse crisis, made no mention of the controversy surrounding that unique resignation or his own thoughts on retirement -- or if that's even possible for a pope.

Benedict had traveled to the town of Sulmona, in the central Italian region of Abruzzi, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2009, killing some 300 and leaving thousands homeless. The pope had also visited the region soon after the quake, praying before the salvaged remains of Pope St. Celestine V.

The main reason for this visit, however, was to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of Celestine, a hermit who reigned for just five months before resigning.

Pietro del Murrone was a simple monk known for his humility, which led cardinals in a deadlocked conclave to elect him pope after the papal throne had been vacant for more than two years. Pietro protested, but was convinced to take up the burden of office by King Charles II of the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples. Charles led him on a donkey to his coronation as Pope Celestine V.

During his brief reign, poor Celestine remained a virtual puppet of King Charles. He issued just two major decrees, one providing for the abdication of a pope, and another when he announced his resignation -- something only a handful of popes have done throughout history, and none for the past 700 years or so.

Celestine's Machiavellian successor, Boniface VIII, imprisoned the poor old man after his resignation, and he died 10 months later. A few years after that, Dante wrote "The Divine Comedy" and put Celestine in the Inferno, just inside the gates of hell for what was called his "great refusal" to take on the papal office.

Yet Celestine was also canonized by the church in 1313.

During his homily at an open-air Mass on a hot Sunday morning, Benedict ignored that history and instead focused on Celestine's personal holiness, and his life as a hermit.

"Silence thus became the element that characterized his daily life," Benedict told the gathering of about 25,000 people. "And it is precisely in external silence, but above all in internal silence, that he succeeded in perceiving God's voice, a voice that was able to guide his life.

"Here a first aspect that is important for us: We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be 'filled' with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God's voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others."

Benedict drove home the message of simplicity in a time of abundance in two other events during his daylong visit. "We too, who live in a time of great comfort and possibility, are called to appreciate a sober way of life, to keep our minds and hearts more free to be able to share our goods with our brothers," he told those gathered in Sulmona's main square at noon.

And later that afternoon he told young people that "the current consumerist culture" tends to "flatten man to the present, to make him lose the sense of the past, of history; but in this way it also deprives him of the capacity to understand himself, to perceive problems and to build tomorrow."

He continued: "So, dear young people, I would like to tell you, the Christian is one who has a good memory, who loves history and seeks to know it."

Benedict XVI certainly has a keen sense of history, and knew that his visit would prompt speculation about his own thoughts on retirement -- views he has never shared publicly. It seems unlikely, however, that a pope as respectful of tradition as Benedict is would upend centuries of custom and retire.

"No one expects Pope Benedict to offer his resignation at this tomb of a pope who did resign," the Rev. Peter Schineller, SJ, wrote on the blog of America, the Jesuit-run national Catholic weekly magazine, on the eve of the pope's visit. "But a major problem still remains untouched by canon law. What happens if the pope becomes enfeebled or comatose, suffering from advanced Alzheimer's and unable to carry out his office?"

Schineller did suggest that this visit "would be a good occasion for the Holy Father to set forth the regulations or procedures on what would happen if a pope were to become comatose."

Benedict didn't do that either. He did visit a retirement home for priests, and just before boarding a helicopter for a return flight to the Vatican, he prayed before the bones of St. Celestine in the crypt of the Cathedral of Sulmona.

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16 Comments

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Jack

people we know that some priest are wrong and should be thrown out and those that cover up the whole thing. But we are catholics and follow Christ we cannot dump our religion because of the "bad priest" there are still good ones out there and we must hold strong to our faith and continue on our journey and follow Christ.
God Bless

July 10 2010 at 10:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hubert and Susan

A noted historical researcher and Theology expert explained where the rule first came about regarding Priests being forbidden to marry. It has less to do with God and more to do with the wealth of the Catholic church: A married priest with wife and children, if he were to die, would leave his wealth and estate to his wife and kids. An UNMARRIED ( celibate ) priest, when he dies, leaves his worldly goods TO THE CHURCH. GET IT? Its about the MONEY and nothing more. Priests who molest small children are not going to get romantically entangled and leave the church. But a priest involved in a relationship with a woman MIGHT. Case in point was Father Cutie, the cuban priest in Miami who left the Catholic church to marry his secret girlfriend and became an Episcopalean .

July 05 2010 at 10:12 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hubert and Susan's comment
bellerophon85a

Priests have no money so your idea the church wants to keep it does not make sense. Perhaps Father Cutie felt he needed to have fame, money, a wife and a family as an Episcopalian. If that is his calling then he is not suited to be a Catholic Priest and should move on. Priests in my parish donate 40% of their meager salaries to the church and their favored religious causes. Their lives are examples of love, devotion and sacrifice; not about having all the trappings and vanities of this world.

July 06 2010 at 9:52 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
snrar

I feel he should resign , I'm catholic and what has come out the last year and what has been going on for decades it is hard for me to believe that he was blind to what was going on or he was just part of it.

July 05 2010 at 7:58 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Chatzey

Just once, it would be nice for someone who is not a Practiicing Catholic to keep their opinions, bias, and insults to themselves about our Pope and our Church. What have you/your church done to help the poorest of the poor in all countties and/or improved the lives of those with little to nothing? WE don't need to flaunt our charity or how we strive to live and follow Jesus Christ our Lord....we do what we can because it's expected of us!
How anyone can throw stones at our Pope or our Clergy is one of the wonders we may never understand or know! Perhaps if we put Jimmy/Tammy Baker; and the crying Preachers who was more worried about lost donations than their congregation or their Church. Some think it's just fine to call ALL our GOOD Priests (99% of our priests are living their vows and giving 110% to their parish/congregation) What % of your Ministers can say the same? You call our's pedophiles...we don't call the one's you have who kept another MAN or cheated on his Wife or has had several Wives or the one's who lived in mansions while senior citizens were hungry/cold or dying from the heat to support them and felt it their responsibility! Those in glass houses should not Throw Stones! If you are repeating rumors or think its fine to ridicule and humiliate the Catholic Church and/or our Pope and Priests, you are wrong! Put your $ where your mouth is to PROVE what you're saying or zipper your mouth! I for one am tired of the slander and lies against our Church, Pope and Priests...please give it a rest or go look in your own closets where I'm sure there are more skeltons lurking!

July 05 2010 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Chatzey's comment
tyrebitre

"I for one am tired of the slander and lies against our Church, Pope and Priests.."

Fine: be tired of the slander and lies - however, you and your fellow Catholics need to address the realities and the truth of the evil within the Catholic church. By 2009, US dioceses have paid out over 2.6 BILLION dollars in sex abuse cases: I guess this has really been money used to feed the hungry and house the homeless, just using a different descriptive ? Have you ever heard of the John Jay Report commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops ? If not, you need to: it disclosed that from 1950 to 2002 there were 10,667 complaints of abuse against 4,392 priests. It found that 6,700 were substantiated against 1672 priests. 3,300 were not investigated since the pedophiles had died. This leaves just 824 priests cleared in about 1000 cases: not a good odd. In short, the Catholic Church is clearly being led by men who obviously have no fear of god and clearly do not believe in one or in its ability to pass judgment on them once they die.

July 05 2010 at 6:31 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
sublimebetch420

LOL! Your church has also hoarded priceless artifacts and caused the dark ages. If you really were a church of helping the poor and improving lives, wouldn't you guys just sell the vatican and all of the riches within and give it to feed the hungry? Didn't jesus get pissed in the bible for people turning a synagogue into a money making scheme? Time has proven that the catholic church is more concerned with making money and exerting power over peoples' lives than doing any real good. The only people who can really say their beliefs are the best are us atheists :P.

July 06 2010 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark

The Pope needs to: put his Faith and Trust in Jesus Christ as saviour and be saved.
Then do the right thing based on the Word of GOD.

July 05 2010 at 4:07 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
annafourth

The Pope needs to fix the problem and see that it doesn't happen again in our Church. One way is not to transfer the perverts to another Parish and call the police and have their rears thrown in jail and they loose the job period. It would be better to be without a Priest than to have a pervert as the Paster. One needs to start with the Seminary's and clean house there. We also need to allow our Priest to marry period. That would eliminate not all but at least half of the problem priests.

July 05 2010 at 3:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
eyeforeye42

To fall on the sword to save others is what Christian Catholicism is about. The healing process begins with sacrifice not the shell game. Nobility is what counts in the end. The issue with suicide bombers is that they lack all nobility. Martyrdom is a personal statement not see how many one can take out when they kill themselves. This pope may be more noted for his nobility, taking responsibility and allowing a new start

July 05 2010 at 2:57 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
Dave

I wouldn't resign if I were Pope as that would be like running away from a problem that needs fixing. I agree that the Pope should be the one Pope that changes the rules to allow the priest's to marry and clean up the mess within the church. I would think that the Pope can see that except for the third world countries which follow the church blindly that the church membership is falling and the money is drying up so it is time for him to act and get things right. If he did then he might go down in history as a great Pope and not one just continuing to cover up the problems.

July 05 2010 at 2:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
andrc657

We need a Pope who is more like St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This Pope draped in ermine and gold is not what the church needs. We need someone who will sell the palaces and other riches, give them to the poor and follow Christ.

July 05 2010 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
msgusarmyret77

The Church will not cure their problem until they admit they have a problem.

July 05 2010 at 1:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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