GetGetReligion: Resignation or Abdication?

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GetReligion logo“GetReligion…just doesn’t get religion.” –Anon.

A couple of days ago Terry Mattingly, the bespoke scold of religion newswriting, took the press to task for claiming that Pope Benedict had resigned. No way, quoth tmatt.

Yes, “resign” is easier to fit into news headlines. The problem is that a pope has no one to resign to, other than God. The correct word is “abdicate.”

Almost immediately, GetReligion readers pointed out that the official English version of Canon 332 §2 uses the word “resign” to discuss a pope’s “resignation.” (The Latin verb is renuntiare–which is what Benedict’s initial announcement used.) It’s kind of hard to blame headline writers for employing Canon Law terminology.

So where did tmatt come up with the notion that a pope cannot resign? Not, I think, from veteran religion reporter Richard Ostling, whose blog he cites in seizing upon the subject for comment. Ostling uses “resign” and “abdicate” interchangeably, as does the dictionary. You can resign without resigning to someone.

Over at dotCommonweal, Mollie Wilson O’Reilly sleuthed out that the the fons et origo appears to be none other than George Weigel, the ultramontain Pooh-bah who has never gotten over the departure of his biographee and pal John Paul II, who hung on to the bitter end. Abdicate is what knaves and cowards do! Bah!

But a pope may resign his office whether George likes it or not. C’mon, Terry, confession is good for the soul. It isn’t that hard. “Resign” is the correct word. Admit it.

  • PPPadre

    Thank you for your article.

    While I wouldn’t be quite so harsh on Terry Mattingly for maintaining a distinction between a resignation (which is tendered to someone) and an abdication (which is tendered to no one), I would take to task the translators of the Codex of the Canon.

    As you point out, the word used in this particular section is “renuntiare,” which is “to renounce.” The Latin word for “resign” is “abdicare” (whence we get the English word “abdicate,” although “concedere” which means “concede” could also have been used for what we consider a resignation). So really, the Pope is neither resigning nor abdicating, but he is renouncing his office.

    Although… I wouldn’t really expect the media to get that distinction, either.

  • Daniel Burke

    Resign is both a transitive and intransitive verb. In the latter sense, you don’t have to resign anyone. So the distinction between resign and abdicate is not necessary.

  • Daniel Burke

    Sorry, above should read “resign to anyone.”

  • David Gibson

    Bishop Paprocki, no raving liberal, prefers “resign” to “renounce” — and much more than the royal “abdicate,” which seems to be preferred by those who want to retain (restore?) the monarchical papacy:

    + Paprocki writes:

    Although “renounce” has been used even in the Holy See’s translation of his announcement and letter of resignation, I think that “renounce” is a literal but not necessarily accurate translation of “renuntio” in this context. Since the Pope wrote and spoke in Latin, it is a question of translation. Parallel passages in canon law regarding bishops and pastors stepping down from office use the word “renuntiatio,” but we never speak of a bishop sending in his letter of “renunciation” when he turns 75 or a pastor “renouncing” his office. So my interpretation as a canon lawyer is that “resignation” is the proper translation of “renuntiatio” in this context.

  • Pingback: Bp. Paprocki: Call Ratzinger "Pope," too... | Sacred and Profane()

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