Pope Paul VI. (Giovanni Battista Montini)

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FEATURE: The "Hypothetical" Resignation of Pope Paul VI

In a previously unpublished letter, Pope Montini speaks of his own “resignation” in case of incurable illness or other impediment

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For the Church and her rigorous laws in this regard, he is already a Saint. And, in fact, next Saturday, having completed the process of the cause, Pope Francis will announce in a consistory the date of the canonization. However, there is “a further proof of Paul VI’s holiness,” commented yesterday Pope Francis: because Montini, who guided Peter’s bark in the difficult fifteen years between Vatican Council II and the beginning of Pope St John Paul II long season (1963-1978), had foreseen and assessed the supposition of a disease, which “is presumed to be incurable or of long duration, and which impedes the sufficient exercise of the functions of our apostolic ministry. “
So, already in 1965, the second year of his pontificate, Paul VI wrote a reserved letter, to date unpublished, addressed to the Dean of the College of Cardinals. In charge of delivering it, if necessary, would be the Secretary of State.
This text was gathered, together with several other unpublished writings of Paul VI, in a volume edited by Father Sapienza, Regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, entitled “Paul’s Bark,” soon to arrive in bookstores.
It’s a sort of blank renunciation of the Petrine Ministry, in the eventual case that the Pope were no longer able to tender his resignation himself, because he was, in fact, seriously ill or, in any case, unable exercise the Petrine Ministry, “in the case that another grave and prolonged impediment to that was equally an obstacle,” it reads.
Together with Paul VI’s letter, Father Sapienza also published a brief comment signed by Pope Francis; both texts were anticipated by L’Osservatore Romano today.
Montini, writes his Successor, who will soon proclaim him Saint, does not withdraw from his responsibilities. What matters to him are the needs of the Church and of the world. And a Pope impeded by a grave disease, would not be able to exercise the apostolic ministry with sufficient efficacy.
Therefore, “in conscience and after mature reflection he indicates his precise will, for the higher good of the Holy Church,” continues Pope Francis.
However, although having envisaged this renunciation to the pontificate, “we must thank God, the only One who guides and saves the Church, for having permitted Paul VI to continue being Father, Pastor, Teacher Brother and Friend up to the last day of his life,” concludes his Successor Pope Francis.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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