STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—Franciscan University of Steubenville’s president and theology professors offer their reactions to the news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign the papacy on February 28 after nearly eight years in office.
Father Terence Henry, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville:
“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 have nothing but the deepest admiration for all Pope Benedict has given to the Church and the world. I am particularly grateful as a university president for the Holy Father’s guidance on the mission and identity of Catholic education and his call for Catholic educators to ensure that ‘every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith’ (April 2008). I am also especially grateful to Pope Benedict for his recognition of the ‘grave threats’ to religious liberty and freedom of conscience in this country and his encouragement to fight to retain the ‘Church’s public moral witness.’”
Dr. Alan Schreck, interim chair, Department of Theology, professor of theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville:
“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. His writings—Jesus of Nazareth, Verbum Domini on interpreting sacred Scripture, and his encyclical letters—are the fruit of a lifetime of prayerful scholarship. Finally, his bold and clear proclamation of the Gospel of Christ—the ‘New Evangelization’—and his call for a ‘new springtime of the Spirit’ among the youth and in the United States—reveal his vibrant spiritual vision, continuing the legacy of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. In all of these ways, Pope Benedict XVI has left a profound impression on the Catholic Church and the world.”
Dr. Scott Hahn, the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, Franciscan University of Steubenville:
“Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed. He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!
“Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V. At the time, however, few people seemed to notice.
“Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.
“In the year 1294, this man, Father Pietro Angelerio, known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.”
Dr. Regis Martin, professor of systematic theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville:
“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.’”
Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, canon lawyer and professor theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville:
“As a Catholic educator myself, I have come to value greatly the many teaching moments in which Pope Benedict XVI engaged during the course of his pontificate. In particular, with regard to Catholic universities such as Franciscan University, I recall that during his apostolic visit to the United States, on April 17, 2008, the Holy Father delivered an address to Catholic educators to encourage them to promote the Catholic identity of their respective institutions.
“‘A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction—do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self-intellect and will, mind, and heart—to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.’
“It is apparent that the Holy Father, himself a former university professor, remained very concerned that Catholic identity should pervade all aspects of the life of a university that promotes itself as a Catholic university. The challenges that he presented will continue to influence the delivery of Catholic education for years to come.
“Pope Benedict XVI also demonstrated his dedication to catechesis by promoting the New Evangelization through his own actions and preaching, but also with the 2010 establishment of the new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization and convoking the 2012 synod of bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Regrettably, it seems to be unlikely that we will receive his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization before the election of the next successor to Peter. Nevertheless, the Holy Father intended during the Year of Faith, in which we are now engaged, that all members of the Church will deepen their relationship with Christ.
“Pope Benedict XVI engaged in countless other significant teaching moments, the full impact of which will only come to be understood as we continue to study his writings.”