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. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    It may never come to that.
    A nun assigned to the Holy Father may find him peacefully deceased in his bed one morning, a prayer book in his hands.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd in DC

      and a bottle of pills on his night stand

      February 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Josh

    When someone resigns, they have to resign to someone. For example, their letter of resignation is given to someone (for the President of the US, its the Sec'ty of State).

    The person to whom, they resign, has the option of accepting such, or rejecting such.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • cnreader

      You did not read the article. Under cannon law no-one is required to accept his resignation. He notified interested parties. He does not need their permission.

      February 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Owl96

      Stu, Nixon delivered his letter of resignation to Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, as was required by law.

      February 11, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MRHD

    Maybe he gave God his two weeks notice.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • G

      Or maybe god gave him two weeks notice -– do or die!!!

      February 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joan

      Maybe God laid it on his heart to 'step down' now so that an elected pope could reign and not a stand in for Pope Benedict XVI. Remember how Bl John Paul II was? I think Pope Benedict wanted to save the church from his infirmity.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Matthew Kilburn

    "That word normally applies in a royal context"

    – Throne of St. Peter
    – Papal Tiara (not currently used, but possibly revived next month)
    – Royal "we" (ditto)

    "when the person who leaves their position has an immediate successor in place."

    Not necessarily that either. The Papacy is technically an "elected monarchy"

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

    Yes, the princes of the church.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SM

    This is a pope who did little to make the world a better place. You will not be missed. Hope the next person will be a better human being, who will protect the children and take action against the evils, reach out to other religions, and make this world a better place.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      I agree. He has been a sad leader of the Catholics. May he leave in peace, and may the cardinals not find peace until they elect a more worthy candidate.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jon

    the term is "abdicate." He is a monarch, by all definitions of monarchy. Historically, the Pope was recognized as such when it ruled over their little "Papal State." He has a court, a castle, and a crown. "Resign" is used for presidents and prime ministers, not monarchs.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Br Michael Duffy, ofm conv

    To whom would he resign? He is the ultimate head of the last truly sovereign monarchy. He does have an immediate successor – in the body of the conclave, until they elect a rightful successor. I would argue that he resigns as the bishop of Rome, but abdicates the Chair of Peter.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ADifferentView

    Don't expect any significant changes to come out of a new pope. Since Benedict named 67 of the 118 Cardinals, chances are the next Pope will have the same conservative position.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      Although I lean more liberal, I would not mind the next pope being conservative if he were a conservative with integrity.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SoothSayer

    Wow!! how true Nostradamus' prediction are .... yet another proof of his revelations.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. -R.

    Resign??? Nonsense. There's no way out but death. Surely some fine print is being ignored....

    February 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bostontola

    I think resignation applies to people in elected or appointed positions. Abdication applies to the others (inherited, taken, etc).

    February 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I accept that the RC Church has tremendous wealth. It runs its business very well, so the money is deserved.
    The Roman Church's reputation regarding molested children does bother me.
    I would not be a Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would not allow my sons to serve as altar boys. That never occurred to me until today.
    I think that allowing priests to marry would help that situation. Episcopal priests normally have wives and children, and some Episcopal priests are women.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joan

      Joey: one child, is one child to many. Having said that, it needs to be noted that over 95% of the priests are wonderful and would never do anything inappropriate to/with any child, including my son and grand son who were altar servers. Even today, they maintain how well they were treated and have not met anyone who wasn't. Everyone suffers in this case.

      If celibacy were the problem, I think the numbers would be reversed. God Bless

      February 15, 2013 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    I was looking through the pics at the top, and the one with him during "The Way of the Cross" procession (#21) clearly shows him NOT wearing the Papal Ring, which I understood to be ALWAYS worn, unto death, when it is cut by the Camerlengo to signify the end of his pontificate.... Interesting, no?

    February 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. watnen

    Why is this on CNN, shouldn't this stuff be for the church newsletter?

    February 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

      @ watnen, this is on CNN because, like it or not, the Pope IS a world leader, one more important that the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, surprisingly, even more important than Billy Graham.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Domenic Marino

    When a pope is elected as the Successor of St. Peter, the Church expects that he will remain in office until his death. What could possibly motivate the leader of a billion Christians to leave office? Ill health? Not likely. Mental instability? Maybe. Like most Vatican secrets, we will never really know. I can't help but think it's to avoid the outing of scandalous intrigues that would tarnish the Papacy. This is a new one for me..

    February 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scuromondo

      At 85 years old, why would one consider ill health to be "not likely?"

      February 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Judi

      I FULLY agree with you

      February 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • ellid

      I hate to tell you this, but several previous Popes have resigned, most notably Celestine V. That none have resigned *recently* does not change this.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      I was thinking some type of diagnosed dementia where the pope eventually would not be able to make any public appearances and could not possibly understand what is going on around him. Old age never was an issue in the past. He obviously feels that he cannot represent the Catholic Church anymore, and I think this is a dignified way of leaving his office.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
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