"In the Light of the Law",
the fine blog of canon lawyer and professor Dr. Ed Peters (he teaches
at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit), is an essential and trustworthy
source at any time, but perhaps especially during this unusual time, on
the cusp of Pope Benedict XVI's final day as pontiff and on the verge of
the conclave. As Dr. Peters notes, there is a real sense in which the
Church is, well, winging it:
Aside from the resignation itselfthe
canonical legality of which is incontestablePope Benedict’s startling
decision to leave office has occasioned much confusion in Rome and
around the Catholic world. The simple fact is that the Catholic Church,
at every level, has virtually no experience in dealing with ex-popes.
Beyond the barest of canonical points
(c. 332 § 2), almost everything about Benedict’s futurehis status under
law (canonical and international), title(s), appropriate dress,
relations with peers (assuming he has any), and so on and so on and so
onmust be fashioned practically from scratch. One should not assume
that any announcements being made about Benedict’s future are
based on the authority of some arcane-but-accessible protocol tome for
dealing with ex-popes, because there is no such tome. We’re making most of this up as we go.
History’s not much help either. Setting
aside some first millennium episodes that are almost too bizarre for
words, the last pope to resign (Gregory XII) had been elected and tried
to govern under conditions that would shock the conscience today. The
only other pope to resign (Celestine V) was promptly arrested and died
in prison. None of this is remotely useful for predicting Benedict’s
Read his entire post, "Some distinctly non-canonical musings on the status of an ex-pope."
And be sure to keep up with his blog, which has been invaluable for many
years, and will undoubtedly be the same during the eventful weeks ahead.