Theological questions about the Pope resigning

I looked through some of the other pope threads and thought this was different enough to warrant its own topic. If a mod disagrees, please feel free to merge it.

So our current Pope is pooped and will be resigning at the end of February. Apparently the last pope that resigned was 600 years ago so I’m sure eventually the true believers will get over their mental conflicts, if any. This topic is more philosophical from a deist point of view

Seeing as how the Pope is the infallible conduit on earth through whom god pours his divine honey, what does the selection of another Pope while this one’s still alive mean for god’s infallibility? Most Popes serve until they die, at which point they are “called back to heaven” for a seat at god’s side. This one got tired of it and quit. Why did god pick someone who couldn’t handle the job? Did he make a mistake? Or is the job god wanted done on earth only capable of being done at that point in time by Ratzinger? It seems to me that if god was truly infallible, that picking a man who would quit after a few years was a huge mistake. Why didn’t god kill this guy, excuse me, “call him back to heaven” instead?

In less than a 2 months, a new Pope will probably be coronated. Does this mean that god will stop talking to Ratzinger and speak to the new guy instead? Are they both infallible, or does infallibility stop when he no longer holds the official title of Pope? During the reign of the last Pope who resigned, there was actually 3 Popes. However, there was some dispute as to which one was the legitimate Pope. True believers will say that god spoke through only one of them, and that anybody with some money and a fancy hat can call himself Pope (Kent Brockman: “Authorities say that you can spot the fake Pope by his high top sneakers and incredibly foul mouth”)

But now there isn’t some schism to be healed by a resignation. Both of these men will be legitimate Popes. God presumably won’t simply ignore the old one, Ratzinger will probably still have some power. I guess Catholics better hope these guys don’t disagree about anything in public, ever (can you imagine the soul-searching Catholics must do if they so much as think pizza should come with different toppings?). Is there anything written about what role a resigned Pope has in the Church? Are they supposed to go off quietly into the night or stick around and support the new Pope, all the while hoping the new guy doesn’t undo some of the previous papal decrees?

The Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra. It simply means that his actions, as pope, are the intended actions of God. It doesn’t confer any special power to get him up in the morning, make his body ache less or deal with the many administrative hassles that aren’t directly related to him personally being pope but are related to the Vatican. As something of a side note, the pope retains his own confessor to confess his sins to. I mention this purely to drive home the fact that papal infallibility isn’t what most people imagine it to be. You yourself are not perfect, the papal throne is considered perfect.

In any event, his pronouncement to step down was made as Pope so it would be considered the infallible will of God. No real conflict. He served his time and now, in the Divine Wisdom of the creator, it’s time for someone new.

Suggested Reading: Straight Dope on Papal Infallibility (as part of another column)

Exactly. As an ex-Pope, Ratzinger cannot speak thusly.

There is not “gotcha” here.

I’ll also say now that even my brief answer doesn’t really come close to explaining the ins-and-outs of the doctrine. Just trying to express that the OP doesn’t hold water from the start.

And only on matters of doctrine or morals. It is analogous to the SCOTUS ruling on a question of law – whether you agree or disagree on the ruling, it settles the matter definitively, at least until the SCOTUS rules different.

It wasn’t a gotcha. I’m glad for the reading. Infallibility really isn’t what I thought it was. Maybe stop listening to people like Sarah Palin

Huh, this is the first I’m hearing about this. It doesn’t have “fall of the Berlin Wall” resonance, but it does catch me by surprise.

Educate me: has Sarah Palin provided any public statement about papal infallibility that led you astray?

It’s surprising to me that this topic comes up with a fair degree of frequency – I’d be willing to bet I could find at least one thread in every calendar year since 2000 on the SDMB in which someone expresses this sweeping, incorrect view of the doctrine of papal infallibility.

But the abdication of Benedict XVI does add a new twist to the question, I grant you. Still, as others have pointed out, there’s no contradiction: it’s like asking what would happen if, today, George W. Bush signed a bill that Congress passed. Nothing, except you’d have a George W. Bush autographed bill that Congress passed. Once past noon on January 20th, 2009, George W. Bush’s signature ceased to be legally effective in signing passed bills into law.

By similar reasoning, the Roman Pontiff alone exercises a great deal of authority, but it derives from his legitimate election as Pope. We Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit guides such choices, but not that it imbues anyone with a direct pipeline to God.

Sarah Palin made famous the term “gotcha question” as a description of politically uncomfortable questions that one didn’t want to answer

Not really. There will only be one Pope. suggests Benedict XVI will return to the bishopric.

I also do not like to presume of the almighty.

Oh! I gotc… er, I see.

Still, it probably ain’t got nothin’ on “Immaculate Conception”.

Yes, that’s the leading contender for Concept-Everyone-Thinks-They-Understand-But-Don’t.

In fairness, it is terribly named. I’ve known actual Catholics who think it refers to Jesus’ conception.

What, he had to be separated from it when he became Pope? :wink:

Yep, me too.

There are (sadly) a not inconsiderable number of Catholics who either did not get, or fail to retain, religious education, and thus approach their faith as a sort of patchwork “we do this because we do it,” framework as opposed to understanding what basic elements underpin our religion.

A good illustration of this came from a friend of mine, who observed people entering the church for the Good Friday service – he watched them genuflect as they entered the pew, exactly as they do every Sunday for Mass.

But the reason we genuflect upon entering the pew is that the consecrated Host is reserved in the tabernacle at the front of the church – it’s to the Real Presence of Jesus that we show reverence in this way.

On Good Friday, the tabernacle is open, and empty. There is nothing to genuflect to.

As my friend wryly observed: “To what, exactly, were they genuflecting? And worse: to what were they genuflecting the rest of the year?”

Why, but in fairness, I do it too, for the same reason: You do something a hundred times for good reasons and you forget the odd exceptions. I don’t think this is a good example of what you meant. You’re still right - a lot of people never really brother to study or remember anything about their own religion.

I suggest, tentatively and without valid citation, that Papal Infallibility is important *to Protestants *as something that defines what they *don’t *believe in–which leads to the sweeping, incorrect views **Bricker **mentions.

I think his sense was not so much that the thought process in play was, “D’oh! Empty tabernacle – no need for me to have just genuflected,” but rather simply, “You are supposed to genuflect when entering a pew,” without any sense of the why behind the ritual.