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Abdication ‘is an act of courage’

15 February 2013

by Bill Bowder in Rome


End of the line: the Pope makes his announcement at a meeting of Vatican cardinals, on Monday 

End of the line: the Pope makes his announcement at a meeting of Vatican cardinals, on Monday 

THE abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, announced on Monday, left scores of English-speaking Roman Catholic seminarians in Rome "gobsmacked" and "saddened".

Many of those who had attended vespers at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in St Paul's Basilica, on 25 January, where the Pope had presided, said that they were not surprised.

"The Pope looked really frail - a dreadful colour," one seminarian said on Tuesday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Holy See, Canon David Richardson, who is to retire at Easter, said that the abdication was an act of courage.

"I am very confident and encouraged by the Holy Father, who has taken the bull by the horns and said 'I am stepping down.' It was an extremely courageous and grace-filled thing to do.

"But it is also good news, and healthy to realise that a piece of canon law that is 700 years old can be used like this."

Canon Richardson said that it might be better for the Church if the new pope were not a scholar. Having two scholars in Canterbury and Rome - Lord Williams and Pope Benedict - had not produced the results for which people had hoped. "There is a need for strong spiritual leadership; the other things will fall into place."

He hoped that the new pope would be "simpatico" with the new Archbishop of Canterbury. "We can't expect that they will repeat the spark that existed between Archbishop Rowan and Pope Benedict; but a shared vision is important. I hope he will see the importance of healing the wounds of the Church, both East and West. My reading is that the desire for unity with the East has taken precedence in recent history."

Mgr Peter Verity, the spiritual director at the Beda College in Rome, which trains older English-speaking seminarians, said: "I think Pope Benedict has set a precedent. I think we won't get any really old men again. And I think that that is common sense. . . It's the action of a very modern pope."

The new pope must reform the Curia "root and branch", he said. "People have had expectations that many of the popes will continue where their predecessor was, but actually there are usually some surprises."


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