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Durham University News

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Catholic theologian reacts to the Pope's resignation

(13 February 2013)

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Professor Paul D. Murray, Director of the Durham University's prestigious Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, gives his reaction to the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

In the aftermath of the news from the Vatican, Professor Murray was in demand for his learned opinion from national and international broadcasters, online news organisations and regional newspapers.

An article on the BBC's Relgion & Ethics site sees him discussing the pressures on a 21st Century Pope.

Professor Murray said: "Although he had earlier indicated that a pope could conceivably resign on grounds of ill health, Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world today.

“This is an event of immense significance. The irony is that for a Pope whose primacy has been characterised by caution and relative ecclesial conservatism, the act for which he is likely to be longest remembered is a bold innovation in the very exercise of the papal office.

“Not only is Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement the first papal abdication in the modern period, it is arguably the first truly voluntary abdication in papal history.

“There have been a small number of previous examples of popes resigning – in various circumstances – but this has a very strong claim to being the first example of an entirely voluntary resignation.

“Celestine V resigned in 1294, ostensibly to devote himself to a life of prayer, but history tells us that he was badgered into the decision by Benedetto Caetani, who when elected his successor as Boniface VIII proceeded to imprison him.

“It is probable that John XVIII (1004-1009) also abdicated but the records and circumstances are uncertain. At the time of the Western Schism (1378-1417), the Council of Constance (1414-1418) deposed both John XXIII as an anti-pope and Gregory XII, who as the supposedly legitimate pope was allowed to present it as an abdication.”

Eamon Duffy, Visiting Professor at Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies, and Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, said: “It is hugely to Pope Benedict’s credit, because this at one stroke demystifies the office and sets all his successors free to do the same if their health and age require it."

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