Another superb article about it from Reverend George Rutler.
“What God knows is not necessarily what God wills. Each pope is guaranteed the protection of the Holy Spirit from fallible definitions of faith and morals, but to suppose that each pope is there because God wants him there, including the unworthy successors of Peter, comes close to the unforgivable blasphemy against the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Twenty year old Benedict IX was at least as nightmarish as his successor Gregory VI who usually is counted with his predecessor among the popes who relinquished their office. There are times, though, when the hand of God is not manhandled, and that, for instance, is why Cardinal Cooke once told me that he had never been so conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit as he was in the Conclave that elected John Paul II. It may also be that the sudden death of John Paul I, as stunning as recent events in the Vatican, was not untimely if it was part of a higher plan.
“Petrine office is not indelible like Holy Orders, and in 1415 Gregory XII nobly and efficiently made his resignation a kind of security for healing the Western Schism. Dante was so frustrated by what he considered dereliction of duty, that he put the abdicated Celestine V into the Inferno but that was his own Commedia, when the Church, not in fancy but in fact, knew he is in Heaven. In 2009 photographs were widely circulated showing Benedict XVI leaving his pallium at Celestine’s tomb, and many commentators then thought that this was more than a gesture of incidental piety.
“As with the Spiritual Franciscans as a whole, almost in tandem with the earlier Montanists, Celestine V proved the utter impracticality of dovelike innocence without serpentine astuteness, and Boniface VIII was as right as was John XXII in condemning these “Fraticelli.” But Boniface also proved the desperate shortcoming of cleverness without innocence. Benedict XVI’s serene retreat to pray will not be like the last months of Pope Celestine who might nearly qualify as a martyr for the terrible treatment he endured for ten months until death when immured in the walls of the Fumone castle in Campagna. Celestine was confined to an unsanitary cell hardly large enough for a bed and an altar. We see in this the contempt that venal souls have for the motives of the humble, and Celestine was nothing if not humble. The role of Boniface in Celestine’s degradation has often been sanitized, but, as John Henry Newman wrote in the “Historical Sketches: “glosses are put upon memorable acts, because they are thought not edifying, whereas of all scandals such omissions, such glosses, are the greatest.” A decree of Boniface, making hay of the misfortunes of his saintly predecessor, spelled out for the first time the canonical case for papal renunciation:
“Pope Celestine V, Our predecessor, whilst still presiding over the government of the aforesaid Church, wishing to cut off all the matter for hesitation on the subject, having deliberated with his brethren, the Cardinals of the Roman Church, of whom We were one, with the concordant counsel and assent of Us and of them all, by Apostolic authority established and decreed, that the Roman Pontiff may freely resign. We, therefore, lest it should happen that in course of time this enactment should fall into oblivion, and the aforesaid doubt should revive the discussion, have placed it among other constitutions ad perpetuam rei memoriam by the advice of our brethren.
“Benedict XVI certainly has known all this, for perhaps not since the Lambertini pope Benedict XIV has there been a pope of such mental acuity and historical erudition, nor probably has any pope since Gregory I, in his writings and witness, matched the magisterial eloquence and liturgical sensibility of this pope of Bavaria. The verdict of centuries from now will affirm the spiritual electricity of his Regensburg lecture, and how he spoke to the French academics in 2010, and, if words be immortal, his undying words in Westminster Hall. His general audiences regularly outnumbered those of his beloved predecessor and those accustomed to spectacle actually began to listen to the crystalline reasoning of what he said. Before he became pope, any form critic could detect his hand in Vatican documents when turgid prose suddenly broke into clarity. His first rate mind did not indulge the tendency of lesser minds to obscure what is profound and to think that what is obscure is perforce profound.
“If he was expected to be a caretaker pope, he took care very well, proving himself unexpectedly radical in his reform of reform, which is more difficult than reform itself, for it restores the form that reformers forgot. So we had the renewal of liturgical integrity in an ecology of beauty, streamlining of the Curia, greater attention to episcopal appointments, the overdue beatification of Newman with all its portents for theological science, the Anglican Ordinariate which may be less significant for what it becomes than for the fact that it exists at all, and progress with the Eastern churches. His plans, like all “the best laid schemes of mice and men” were not completely realized. Not all that Benedict called “filth” was removed, and we can be sure that a media eager to affect being scandalized, will point out among those entering the Conclave, those who bring with them the shadows of what Benedict tried to dispel. But he continues to dignify in charity even those who may not understand that “dignitas.” He announced his renunciation of office in Latin, and by so doing indicated his hope that even if some of those listening may have mingled astonishment with incomprehension, his successor will be able to speak the official language of the Church he leads and the city he governs.”