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. rich

    it does not seem to change the ridiculous cannons of the church when the pope changes. if they want to help the people they have to be more enlightened re the modern customs , morals and intellegence. to continue topreach the same old outdated guidelines drives people away from the church, not all of us believe without seeing.

    February 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Neocon

      He might be very sick and on the verge of dying. The demand on modern Popes is too demanding and he cannot perform wel;l while being ill.
      Second, the church does not respond to modernity of man. These modernities are termed Vanities. Our new lifestyles are just a period of man's silliness, studpidity, emptiness and downright madness which the church has to help correct.
      The Church is supposed to satisfy the spiritual appetite of some of us. The Church does not have to change at all. It is humans who have to change according to the will of THE ALMIGHTY GOD.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Illinois

      Religion is based on faith. What is it that you think you need to see?

      February 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Homero

    People resign, kings abdicate, and popes claudicate.

    February 11, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      You are confusing Spanish with Latin. In Spanish Claudicate means to give up. In Latin and English, Claudico is a medical term meaning to limp.

      February 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seth Hill

      Popes pontificate.

      February 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    Anybody else look at that photo and have a flashback to Revenge of the Sith. "Unlimited power!"

    February 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Armin

    He was not a member of the Nazi party, and he was drafted into the German Air Force in 1943, at age 16 as an auxiliary aide, not a regular soldier. Your statement is historically incorrect.

    February 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sensical

    Probably won't be preserved under glass, as several others are.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Billmeno

    Just another forum to bash Catholics, or any other victim you choose as politically correct to abuse. Oh, but if you treat everyone equally and with respect, you would be out of work.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bill

    Why cant it just be called Retire ? he has indicated that it is due to old age.. is that not what all people do when they no longer can serve and want to relax.. they RETIRE.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • TinKnight

      Slight difference here...a pope is a head of state as well as a religion, sworn in for life.
      That means, even when he's old and ailing (as with John Paul II), he's still supposed to serve at least as the figurehead.
      A Pope is expected to serve until death, and then is believed to be "serving God" in the afterlife (regardless of whether you believe that, it's the position in which he's placed).

      If a Pope retires, or quits, it's a pretty serious indication, and some would state it shows his doubt in God or the Church.
      Pope Gregory XII, the last one to resign, did so because of the Western Schism involving an antipope and his refusal to work out a solution for the betterment of the Church. Popes just aren't supposed to resign.

      To compare today's situation, where a Pope quits just because he's old, to a normal person leaving a regular job to retire, is just not an apples to apples comparison.

      As a point of clarification, I'm not Catholic (I'm agnostic), but I really felt all along that Benedict was a poor choice.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. EX catholic

    Well... really, only Roman-Catholics do care. This is a mere administrative expediency. The Romanist Curia is very politically savvy so it should not come as a surprise this move. From his point of view however is a whole lot better than being put to sleep by some insider.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. matt

    Religion is not based on faith, you have faith that the facts the religion says it is based on are true. These "facts" are not supported by archeological evidence.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. CEG

    Too bad Raterno is gone. He would have made a great pope.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. cj aug

    who even cares?

    February 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. shoos

    I think he what he did is fine. Welcome to modern times Roman Catholics.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • TinKnight

      Why is it fine?
      I'm Agnostic, but I still say that Popes just aren't supposed to resign...it gives an impression of instability and frailty, which is the opposite impression Catholicism needs to convey in order to soothe their followers.

      That being said, perhaps voluntary departure would cause future Popes to consider the real world effects of their actions, instead of relying on "He said he said he said he said..." dating back thousands of years (note, there's no "she said" mentioned).

      February 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JDinHouston

    It is a surprise. In my lifetime and my understanding, popes have always checked in, but it is God who checks them out. Guess we will now see what a pope in retirement looks like.

    February 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Juice

    He can walk My dog. Nah he might QUIT!!!! hahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    February 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Terry

    the actual word is "renuntiet" in the Latin of the Code of Canon Law, which is often translated 'resigns'- a more literal translation would be 'renounces'

    seeing as this article is about being precise with language, you should use the Latin term to be most precise, as the Church's law is officially in Latin and Latin only: any translations are not normative.

    February 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa

      Nice call

      February 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
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