Pope Benedict would not be the meticulous theologian he has always been if he didn’t make sure even his shocking resignation – the first by a pontiff in over 700 years – was fully in line with Roman Catholic doctrine.
His announcement was so stunning that many Catholics will have instinctively asked if a pope is allowed to step down. For many of them, Pope John Paul’s long and very public agony before he died in 2005 is the iconic image of the end of a papacy.
But the Code of Canon Law, the legal corpus governing the Church, clearly provides for a papal resignation in its Canon 332. John Paul mentioned it in a detailed 1996 document that laid down the procedure for electing a new pope.
Benedict’s reputation as an orthodox and self-effacing pope ensures there will be few questions about the legality of the move and will reduce speculation that he plans to continue to play a decisive role behind the scenes.