UPDATED -- 12 Feb. 2013
By now, most people know the news that Pope Benedict XVI has offered his resignation as Bishop of Rome (and therefore as Supreme Pontiff) effective 28 February 2013 at 20:00 (Rome Time). I thought I'd offer a bit of Q&A on what his means.
If people have specific questions, just ask in the ComBox, and I will try to answer them. If anyone is interested and request (in the Com Box), I can do a Q&A for the Conclave itself once it begins.
Click on the "Read More" button below for the Q&A.
Q&A on the Papal Resignation
Can the Pope Resign?
Of course, yes. Even so, it is a rather rare event. Most of the press has pointed to the 15th century resignation of Pope Gregory XII in the 15th Century. But that was done to end the Great Western Schism, at the urging of the Council of Constance. I think the better analogy is Pope Celestine V, who abdicated in the 13th century. He was a hermit who found life in Rome, and the politics of the papacy, too much. It was because of the long process that preceded the election of Pope Celestine (and his all too short Papacy) that the Conclave was introduced as the procedure for electing a Pope, which has been observed ever since.
Does that mean he's no longer a Bishop?
No. In thinking about Bishops we have to distinguish between the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Office that the Bishop holds. These two things are related, but not the same. For example, when the Bishop of any Diocese resigns (as they are requested to do when they turn 75), once his resignation is accepted he is still a Bishop, just not the bishop of Diocese anymore. He still has the sacramental power he had--he can still hear confessions, confirm people, ordain priests, etc.--but he can't exercise any legal "jurisdiction" as a Bishop. He has no legislative, executive, or judicial power. The same would be true for Benedict. He will still be a Bishop, but no longer the Bishop of Rome, and no longer entitled to act as the Supreme Legislator, Judge, and Executive.
Does that mean he'll still be a Cardinal?
That is a more difficult question, as we don't have much precedent. The law gives to a Cardinal all of the rights and obligations he enjoys. However, a Pope can always withdraw the title. Also, it is not clear whether he lost the title when he became Pope. Being a Cardinal is not permanent, like being a deacon, priest, or bishop. Now, before the 16th century, most Popes wore red, just like the other Cardinals, suggesting a precedent of his remaining a Cardinal. I think the best conclusion is that he will likely remain a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. The Guardian newspaper in England has said that a spokesman from the Bishops of England and Wales seems to be saying that after his resignation he will revert to the title Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. There does not seem to be any confirmation of this from the Holy See. I suspect--but this is only speculation--that this will be sorted out by his successor, who will (likely) confirm him as a Cardinal.
What happens now?
For the month of February, all will continue as normal. Once the Pope's resignation is effective, the procedures of the law take effect. At that point the "See" of Rome will be vacant -- Sede vacante.
What laws govern Sede Vacante?
The situation is governed by canon law and the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.
Doesn't that just deal with the death of the Pope?
While on their face, they largely mention the death of the Pontiff, the document says clearly: "...the dispositions concerning everything that precedes the election of the Roman Pontiff and the carrying out of the election itself must be observed in full, even if the vacancy of the Apostolic See should occur as a result of the resignation of the Supreme Pontiff..." So, even when the document refers to the "death of the Supreme Pontiff", it should be read as "the vacancy of the See".
What do they say about Papal resignations?
Not much about Papal resignations specifically, although they explicitly allow it. What is important to realize is usually in the law when a person has an Office, his resignation must be accepted by someone. The only exception is the Holy Father. As Canon 332 §2 says: "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone." This is why the Pope wrote his in his own hand, and explicitly mentioned that it was being made freely. No one "accepted" his resignation.
Will we notice anything different in the Church?
The part most Catholics will notice is that in the Eucharistic Prayer, at the point where the Pope's name is normally mentioned, it will be omitted. Priests should begin omitting it when the See is vacant at 2:00pm Eastern Time on February 28. So, it could be that if you go to morning Mass that day, you will hear the Pope's name spoken. But if you go to a late afternoon Mass, the See will be vacant, and no name will be mentioned because there will be no more Pope.
What about the rest of the people who work at the Vatican?
The officials in the Roman Curia (the bureaucracy of the Roman Church) act in the name of the Roman Pontiff. All of these are headed by a Cardinal who acts as Secretary. For the most part, when the See if vacant, all of these lose their authority. There are some exceptions for running the Vatican City State and emergency situations.
Well, then who runs things?
Care for the Church is given to the College of Cardinals. Their main task is to prepare for the election of the next Pope. However, they also handle the matters of the daily running of Vatican.
How many Cardinals are there?
There are currently 206 Cardinals.
Do all of them run the Church as a body?
Actually, the College splits into two groups. A General Congregation of Cardinals and a Particular Congregation.
What's the difference?
The General Congregation is made up of all of the Cardinals. That Body tends to deal with the big issues--largely related to the election. The Particular Congregation is made up of the Cardinal Carmelengo and three Cardinals, who are chosen by lot and rotate throughout the period of the vacant See. The Particual Congregation is responsible for the daily running of the Church and other smaller details.
Wait, Cardinal Camerlengo, who's that?
The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church is a Cardinal who is responsible for administering the property and finances of the Holy See. He acts as a kind of administrative head in the absence of the Pope. The current Cardinal Camerlengo is H.E. Tarcisio Cardinal Berton, the current Secretary of State.
So, when do these Cardinals get together.
By law, they cannot act while the Pope still exercises his office. That means, they can only meet when the See is vacant. The earliest they could meet would be 8:00pm on February 28. My best guess is that they will wait until the next morning, Friday March 1.
So will they start voting then?
No. The law requires them to wait for 15 days. The document Universi Domenici Gregis formulates this in two ways. In one place it says: "from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant, the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent." (UDG 37) The See becomes vacant on 28 February. However, it does so in the evening. The first full day would be March 1, and it is counted in the numbering. If they have to wait 15 full days, they must wait until after March 15, 2013 (the fifteenth day), i.e., March 16, 2013.
In another place, however, it says that the Cardinals gather on the appointed day, which it describes as "on the fifteenth day after" the See becomes vacant. (UDG 49) That is computed from the time of the vacancy of the See, February 28, but does not include that day. That means that, according to this passage, the earliest possible date for the election would be March 15, 2013.
So which is it? Although I earlier wrote March 15, I think that the better calculation is March 16 for three reasons. First, the in order to protect rights--and this 15-day delay is meant to protect the voting rights of Cardinal electors--the law generally prefers the more generous reading. Secondly, the actual legal language on the delay is in UDG 37. UDG 49 is simply a passing reference, and therefore does not express the mind of the legislator nearly as explicitly. Finally, this is the time followed in the last Papal election in 2005. Bl. Pope John Paul II died the afternoon of 2 April 2005. After a delay of fifteen full days, the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI began on 18 April 2005. Therefore, the calculation of time should be done according to UDG 37.
Earliest? Could they choose a later date?
Yes. But the law limits that to 20 days. So, the latest they could begin to vote is March 21, 2013.
I heard that because there is no Papal funeral, this 15 day period can be waived. Is that true?
There is no current provision in the law that would allow this. In fact, Universi Dominic Gregis says very clearly that the Cardinals can make no changes and grant to waivers or dispensations to the election procedures: "During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff." (UDG 4)
Couldn't Pope Benedict change that?
As he continues to be the Supreme Legislator of the Church until the date and time of his resignation, the Pope could amend the law. However, Canon Law assumes a period of delay between the promulgation of a law and its effective date (vacatio legis)--3 months for universal laws and 1 month for particular laws. Because there is so little time until he resignation date, the Pope would have to, at the same time, issue the change in law and waive this period of delay between promulgation and effectiveness.
What happens at the election?
I will hopefully do another Q&A later on the details of that. Suffice it to say that the main purpose of the Cardinals is to elect the Pope. In this they are led not by the Camerlengo, but by the Dean of the College of Cardinals. The current dean is H.E. Angelo Cardinal Sodano, Cardinal Bertone's predecessor as Secretary of State.
Will all the Cardinals vote?
No, the law says that only those who celebrate their 80th birthday before the See become vacant may not participate in the voting. So, while there are currently 118 Cardinals under 80, one of them (Cardinal Hussar of the Ukraine) will turn 80 before February 28, leaving 117 Cardinal Electors.
Will Pope Benedict XVI participate in the election?
The law is not at all clear on his participation. Certainly, because he is over 80, he could have no part in the election. However, if accept that he is still a Cardinal after his abdication, the law would suggest that he could still have a passive role in the General Congregations of the Cardinals. Fortunately, however, the Pope has expressed his intention not to be present for the deliberations of the Conclave, and that he will be away from Rome for that period.