Thoughts on Franciscan University reactions to Pope Benedict’s resignation.

As I’ve mentioned in this space a number of times, I work at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a hub of Catholic intellectual life and spiritual renewal for so many worldwide. So the reactions to this morning’s announcement have been many and interesting.

Starting with the humorous and moving quickly to the serious.

In case you hadn’t heard, and purely for context, we announced two weeks ago that our president, Father Terence Henry, TOR, will step down from that position at the end of this academic year. That in mind, Bob Rice, popular Catholic musician and assistant professor of Catechetics here at Franciscan, offered:

The cuisine here in Steubenville isn’t nearly as good as in Rome, but we would certainly welcome this prospective new president… He *would* have to become a TOR, however. One of our students offered a common solution to problems here on campus:

“The Port,” for those unfamiliar, is the replica we have on campus of the Portiuncula chapel St. Francis re-built in Assisi when he heard the Lord instruct him to “Rebuild my Church.” We have perpetual adoration in the Port during the academic year. As you can imagine, that also makes it a place to go when you don’t know where else *to* go.

Our vice president for Advancement, Michael Hernon, noted, “Steubenville has a new bishop, soon a new president for the university, and now a new pope. What a year of faith!”

Sure gives one the opportunity to just let go and trust that God is in charge.

We posted a collection of reactions from Fr. Henry and some of our theology professors. Here are a few highlights.

Father Henry offered,

While Pope Benedict’s resignation is certainly unexpected, it is yet one more sign of the strong leadership he has exhibited throughout his papacy. It takes a particular kind of wisdom to know when to step down and a wonderful humility to do so.

I’ve seen some saying that Pope Benedict ought to stay in the office until he dies like John Paul II did. As much as I might think it is a good idea and I would like that to happen for the great witness is gives of noble suffering, I recognize that what I’m saying is I, I, would like it. Frankly, what I would like or what I think is the appropriate thing to do doesn’t really matter here. If I love this pope and trust his judgment then that trust must extend to a decision as momentous as this one. Few would grasp the gravity of such a move as well as Joseph Ratzinger, especially since he had a front-row view to the deterioration and demise of his beloved predecessor. Does Benedict want to set the precedent that popes ought to resign before the onset of Alzheimer’s or another debilitating disease that saps the mind but not the body? Modern medicine can keep a body alive long after the mind is gone. If we trust that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from any harmful actions of a debilitated pope—and we do—ought not we also to trust that the Holy Spirit could guide a pope to resign *before* he loses his mental faculties and then cannot resign with a free conscience and fully operational will?

Interim chair of the Department of Theology, Dr. Alan Schreck, said,

Upon his election as pope, some predicted that Pope Benedict XVI would be a polarizing figure, continuing his long-held role as the Catholic Church’s chief doctrinal defender and ‘censor.’ Pope Benedict certainly did not avoid controversy in the pursuit of truth, engaging in honest and serious dialogue with other religions and with modern culture, unafraid to challenge the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Yet Pope Benedict was deeply committed to promoting reconciliation: among Christians, among nations, and with those alienated from the Catholic Church.

Indeed, this pope has gone further than anyone thought imaginable extending olive branches and making efforts to restore unity. From the true meaning of his much-maligned Regensburg Address—the one that angered some fundamentalist Muslims to murderous rage, but actually led to a significant dialogue with Muslim scholars—to his visit to Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to the establishment of the Anglican Rite and the massive influx of former Anglicans to the Church, to his efforts to draw the Society of St. Pius X back into the fold, to Summorum Pontificum and the seismic shift it caused in the landscape of Catholic liturgical development, and other efforts that escape me at the moment, he has used a graceful humility, arguing with an unassailable logic, founded in the truth of the Love of God, proposing always that any approach not founded in and leading to that love, is inhuman and doomed to denigrate humanity and lessen all of us.

I love the language Dr. Regis Martin, professor of systematic theology, uses, (and I appreciate that he echoes what I said this morning):

The sudden news of the Pope’s decision to retire at the end of this month, rather than die, as his sainted predecessor did, with his boots on, has taken us all by surprise. But the shock of the realization that this gentle and good man, this wonderful Vicar of Christ whose mind is as profound as his heart is fearless, should be tempered by the recognition that while popes come and go, the Church remains forever. And the legacy he leaves behind will surely last as long as the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ himself. What precisely that patrimony will consist of I leave for another day. But surely the centerpiece of his life has always been the love of God monstrated before the world in the sending of his Son. All else has been a footnote to that horizon-shattering event. And so I see his departure in the immediate context of that blinding light. Leaving—to recall the last line of a poem by Stephen Spender—‘the vivid air signed with his honor.’

Pope Benedict XVIYes. No pope’s full impact on the Church, and therefore the world, can be calculated within many decades of the end of that papacy, but I think this pope’s impact will reverberate with the loudest of them for centuries for reasons touched on in the list above of areas where he has tried for reconciliation. Striking because of how quiet and meek a man he is. But from the outset, when the first encyclical of this extraordinarily intellectual man was a profound meditation on “God is Love” (a very Augustinian opener that just warms my Augustinian heart), we knew we had something we did not expect.

Almost as though “God is Love” is the answer to, or countering position against, the “dictatorship of relativism” he identified as a great threat to modern man roughly a year prior.

More will be said in the days and weeks to follow, but that’s enough for now.

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