February 11th, 2013
11:15 AM ET

Will Benedict 'resign' or 'abdicate' as pope?

When Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would step down at the end of the month, an interesting debate sprang up: Do popes resign or abdicate?

Read the pope's letter

In English, the pope said he is renouncing his role at the end of the month "because of advanced age."  In some other languages, he uses the word "vacating."

This is a rare situation; the last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

But it turns out there is some specific language to help guide the linguistics of it all.

"Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone," according to laws that guide the church.

So according to those rules, the correct word to describe the pope's actions would be resignation.

But many people have been calling the pope’s announcement an abdication. That word normally applies in a royal context, when the person who leaves their position has an immediate successor in place.

In this case, the cardinals will vote on a new pope.

Papal resignation: What happens next

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Filed under: Catholic Church • Religion • World
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Juice

    Pope said to have ties to Christopher Dorner. they both Quit their jobs!!!!lolololololololol ROTFL

    February 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Juice

    OK IM DONE. I QUIT!!!!!!! ROTFL!!!

    February 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JohnC

    Abdication does normally apply in a royal context, but the Pope is a sovereign!

    Abdication does not imply that "the person who leaves their position has an immediate successor in place." That is nonsense.

    February 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve Brickman

      Abdication at least implies that the office or title holder left prematurely. Not necessarily true with a 'resignation'. Abdication usually has a negative connotation; not necessarily so with resignation,

      February 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Google abdication ..... king, queen, emperor, empress, pope are included in definition of abdication

      February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Terry

    Soon he will be 'ex cathedra' for real.

    February 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Larry

      Learn Latin before you try and use it.

      February 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • JAI

      "ex cathedra" is Latin for "from the chair," as-in: The Pope makes a doctrinal statement "from the Chair of St. Peter," indicating its infallible nature.

      You likely are thinking of "sede vacante" which is Latin for "empty chair". In this case, you would be correct... at least until a new pope is elected, which will be before Easter. Normally, this term is reserved for those who do not believe that the current pope is the real pope, ie: "Sedevacantist".

      February 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bart Hawkins

    Let's get this straight: The Pontiff IS royal, and the word "abdication," is absolutely correct. CNN's assertion otherwise is just another example of all-too-common prejudice against Roman Catholics.

    Next....there is NOT always a successor to royal houses....witness vairous kins/queens (i.e. Norway) who are in fact elected to their positions and whose positions, therefore, while hereditary in nature, must be confirmed by an outside agency.

    The Church is similar.

    "Pope," is by the way, short for Roman Pontiff, which is in itself short for "Pontifex Maximus."

    February 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAI

      In the Royal context, Abdication is correct, since the Papacy is, technically, the only absolute monarchy left on the planet. However, the more proper term is "Renounce," since the Latin term the Holy Father used is "renuntiare"...which just means he is giving it up.

      Also, "POPE" is not actually "short" for "Roman Pontiff," although that is his title. "Pope" is catually from the Latin "papa" and/or Greek "pappas" which is a child's word for "father." It's that simple.

      "Pontiff" comes from the Roman Latin "Pontifex" (High Priest) or "Pontifex Maximus," (Most High Priest) a title reserved for the emperor of Rome in its pagan days. Christianity "baptized" the term, so that it now applies to the true High Priest of Rome, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

      Additionally, "@Pontifex" is the Pope's Twitter handle.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Howard

    "but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone"

    Which means the College of Cardinals could reject the resignation. If they did, then what? Does the Papal Secretary of State increasingly anesthetize the Pope during his public appearances to keep him from embarrassing the Church?

    February 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Chris

    How about the word "retire"? Can we use that? Is that acceptable? Of course, the Pope doesn't have a retirement fund or pension, so what does he do for money? I read somewhere else that he is expected to retire to a monastery and live a life of prayer, reflection and contemplation. For goodness sake, the man is 85 years old, exactly how much praying and contemplation does he have left?

    February 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bart Hawkins

      No, it isn't, Chris. He is Abdicating the Papal Tiara and thus the Office of Pontifex Maximus of the Holy See, amongst other titles. No one would have a problem stating the Queen of England is abdicating. What's the deal with recognizing the Holy Father's royalty?

      Anti Roman-Catholic prejudice? The only fashionable prejudice left?

      The Pontiff, who will revert to his former title as a Prince of the Church, (namly Josef Cardinalium Ratzinger) will live just as our politicians do after they leave office – on the public, via the custodial funds of the Church (as do all religioius).

      February 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. krabz

    In a heartbeat, Chucko.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Steve Brickman

    I'd guess that any rejection of a resignation would be part of a staged-managed event designed in advance to make a statement, organizational point, or theological issue.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Lisa

    Officially a Pope abdicates (as do all monarchy which he is considered part of) -- if he was the head of a major corporation, he would be resigning.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Elected

    Yes it is considered an abdication as the pope is actually a King and the word cardinal mean price price of the church! I am surprised CNN do not know about this!

    February 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Iktabok

    So, St. Peter is quitting on Christ?

    February 12, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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