A few hours before his resignation, Pope Benedict sought to reassure cardinals and the rest of the church on two important points.
First, he said that the church is a “living reality” that can transform itself and adapt to modern times without changing its fundamental identity, which is found in Christ. The message here was that while papal resignation marks a shift in the office of the papacy, it does not mark a break with the church’s core mission and values.
Second, Benedict, in the clearest words possible, pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to the next pope. Although no one expects Benedict to interfere in any way with the ministry of his successor, this was a line that probably needed to be pronounced so that no one has any doubts, and so that any question of split allegiances will be avoided in the future.
The pope spoke to more than 130 cardinals and dozens of Roman Curia officials who gathered in the Vatican’s ornate Clementine Hall to say goodbye, about nine hours before his resignation was to take affect. Some of the cardinals whispered in the pope’s ear as they came up for individual greetings, others handed him notes and a few posed afterward for a photo with the departing pontiff.
Addressing the pope briefly at the start of the ceremony, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, appeared to be sending some not-so-subtle signals about recent criticism of the Roman Curia. He underlined the pope’s recent words of appreciation for the Curia’s efforts over the last eight years, quoting the pontiff as praising the “great competence, affection, love and faith” of his Curia officials.
Over the last two weeks, commentators and even some cardinals have described the Roman Curia as part of the burden that weighed on Pope Benedict, pointing to recent episodes of mismanagement, leaks and power struggles in some Vatican quarters. In some accounts, the pope has been described as frustrated and disappointed by the mistakes of top aides, and alarmed at malfeasance inside Vatican walls.
Pope Benedict himself does not seem to be buying into that narrative. Yesterday, in a farewell address to the faithful, he went out of his way to praise the work of the Roman Curia, and said that despite some “rough waters” he looked back on his pontificate with a sense of joy and accomplishment.