Pope Benedict XVI
•Onaiyekan: Canon laws, God’s to determine successor’s election
Paul Obi in London with agency reports
Pope Benedict XVI spent the last day of his papacy Wednesday bidding farewell to the public and his aides as well as finalising plans for a life in retirement that will be spent in seclusion and devoted to prayers.
The pope shocked the world on February 11, when he announced that he would be stepping down today, making him the first pope in about 600 years to step aside.
His exit will leave about 117 cardinals to pick one among them to head the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics for urgent reforms that analysts said the church desperately needs.
The selection of a new pope begins next Monday when the cardinals are expected to converge on the Vatican and start a search for a successor that is expected to emerge before Easter.
However, amid clamour for Pope Benedict’s successor to come from Africa, Head of the Abuja Ecclesiastical Province of the Catholic Church, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, said Canon laws and God’s will would guide them in the election of a new pope.
The pope’s resignation came amid crisis of division and allegations in the church mostly among senior clergies of the church in Europe and America.
On Monday, the United Kingdom most senior bishop, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, was asked by the Vatican to resign after allegations of ‘inappropriate’ behaviours by three serving priests and one former priest who is now married. He is also expected to stay away from Rome as other cardinals gather to elect a new pope.
O’Brien’s resignation has sparked controversy across Rome, with many linking the allegations to several other sex scandals the church is struggling to put off.
Another senior UK clergy and former Westminster Archbishop, Murphy O’Connor, on Tuesday at a press conference in London stated that the pope’s “own house has to be put in order.”
According to O’Connor, "It is not just the pope who rules the church...It is the pope with the bishops....There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the church, reform in the church and especially of government," he stressed.
In his final public appearance yesterday before a cheering crowd, the pope thanked members of the church for their support since his emergence eight years ago.
He assured the gathering that even in retirement, “I will continue to accompany the church in prayers” for its growth and good works.
"The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds."
Benedict added that “to love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself, is the fruit of a serene trust in God's will and a deep love of Christ's church."
The pope is expected to meet with the cardinals today after which he will leave for his new private residence, Caste Gandolfo, in Southern Rome.
There, Benedict’s chapter will close, opening the door for a long wait for a new pope to be elected soon.
Though, the pope will retain his name as Benedict XVI, he would now be referred as Pope Emeritus in no official capacity.
Born Joseph Ratzinger 16 April, 1927, Benedict is a theologian and academia, having lectured in several German universities before his subsequent appointment to the Vatican. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, Benedict’s resignation citing weak health and mind as reasons is rare; the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
In his eight years on the throne, Benedict was regarded as a firm pope and strong character in protecting the church doctrines, but his tenure also witnessed sex scandals among priests in Europe and America, the gall part of his rule remains the leaks of financial scandal at the Vatican, which critics now called Vatileaks.
Onaiyekan, one of the cardinals that would elect the new pope has said that the election of Benedict XVI’s successor would be based strictly on the canon laws and the will of God and devoid of any other consideration.
Onaiyekan stated this in a sermon at a thanksgiving mass and reception organised for him by his alma mater and Old Boys of Mount St. Michael’s Secondary School, Aliade in Benue State.
Taking his reading from the book of Matthew 16:13-19, he said: “We (cardinals) will follow laid down canon laws when we go to the conclave to elect a new pope for the church.
“Cardinals will be directed by the will of God in the election process so that at the end of the day, whoever emerges will be God’s chosen.”
The cleric regretted that so many persons were reading meanings into why the Catholic pontiff resigned, warning that the matter should not be over flogged “because nobody persuaded the pope to resign and nobody would have forced him to stay.”