Pope Benedict XVI surprised Catholics around the world today by announcing his intention to abdicate on Feb. 28. The decision — the first time a Pontiff has stepped down for six centuries — immediately raises complex questions about succession and the future of the Roman Catholic church. Kojo explores how Pope Benedict’s decision will affect Catholics and policy in Washington and around the world.


  • Rev. Mark Morozowich Associate Professor of Liturgical Studies and Sacramental Theology, Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, Catholic University


  • 13:06:45

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast the U.S. Foreign Service and the challenges it must face in the 21st century. But first, this morning brought surprising news, Pope Benedict is abdicating his position as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church effective at the end of this month.

  • 13:07:22

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a first in modern times that has Catholics and non-Catholics alike abuzz with questions about what this means for the church and its billion plus members moving forward. Here to help us get an understanding of what's happening at the Vatican and its impact around the world is Father Mark Morozowich.

  • 13:07:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. He's also a professor of liturgical studies and sacramental theology. Father Morozowich, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:55

    REV. MARK MOROZOWICHThank you, it's my pleasure.

  • 13:07:57

    NNAMDIWhat was your first reaction to the news and now that you've had a few hours to process, what do you make of it?

  • 13:08:03

    MOROZOWICHWell, I was completely shocked this morning. I thought it was going to be just a normal Monday and I couldn't believe when I heard it on television and then I started looking around on the Internet and I read the pope's speech and I was so moved by his deep humility, by his recognition that the office of Peter demanded somebody who had much more energy than Pope Benedict currently has. And I thought wow, what a great sentiment, what a great statement, what a great witness to our world.

  • 13:08:40

    NNAMDIWell, the speech was in Latin and so I guess it took some people a little while to interpret it, is that correct?

  • 13:08:47

    MOROZOWICHWell, I'll tell you I was up pretty early this morning and it was already posted in English so...

  • 13:08:54

    NNAMDITo say that it's been a while since a pope abdicated and we use that term advisedly because it is my understanding that theoretically the pope cannot resign because he has no boss so there is no one to whom he has to tender a resignation. But to say it's been a while since this happened is a bit of an understatement. What is or is there precedent for this?

  • 13:09:20

    MOROZOWICHWell, certainly in the past popes have resigned but, you know, certainly in our memory and, you know, in the recent past, you know, it's been over 600 years the last time since a pope actually resigned. So I think that this is a newsworthy certainly but a groundbreaking event.

  • 13:09:43

    MOROZOWICHYou know, in this day and age as people, you know, live to be much older and as they end up then in declining health for sometimes years on end that, you know, Benedict's humbleness, Benedict's willingness to recognize, you know, well these are my limitations and that I believe that the office of the pope really demands something more.

  • 13:10:08

    MOROZOWICHYou know, it's significant that the pope is really the bishop of Rome and as in every other diocese in this world, the bishop of that diocese steps down after reaching the age and normally the age limit is 75. So that, you know, it's significant that the pope is, you know, acting and reminding the world that he is indeed a bishop just like every other bishop who happens to be the one that we call the successor of Peter, who happens to be the one that exercises the office of unity as the first among equals. So I think it pulls all those things to our minds.

  • 13:10:49

    NNAMDIOf course, the bishop of Rome is the only one that was an exception, if you will, to the rule that bishops retired after a certain point in life. You think that what Pope Benedict XVI has done here is to remind the entire church that this something that is conceivable?

  • 13:11:07

    MOROZOWICHAbsolutely and to remind the church that after all the pope is a human being and to, you know, accentuate that the reality of what is necessary and the strength that's needed to act as the, you know, as the pope of Rome is really a daunting example.

  • 13:11:26

    MOROZOWICHI mean, you look at any one of his daily routines, you know, when he's up for prayer he's meeting people. To have that alertness, to have that focus, to be able to travel internationally and to meet with all these people, that's a heavy burden and it is a suffering.

  • 13:11:43

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Father Mark Morozowich. He is dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America where he's also professor of liturgical studies and sacramental theology, about the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign. If you would like to join the conversation, call us, 800-433-8850 if you're Catholic or even if you're not, what is your own reaction to the pope's announcement? 800-433-8850.

  • 13:12:10

    NNAMDIFather Morozowich, remind us of how a new pope is selected and whether we have a sense of what influence, if any, a pope emeritus if you will, will have on that process?

  • 13:12:20

    MOROZOWICHWell, Pope Benedict has said clearly that upon his retirement on February 28th that he will go to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence. He will not be part of the consistory electing the new pope. So this will give the cardinal electors a free hand in their choice for who in their prayer of reflection that they judge will be the next pope.

  • 13:12:46

    MOROZOWICHSo what happens is all the cardinals of the world who are voting age, remember, you have to be under 80 to be of voting age. So all the cardinals of the world come together and they lock themselves inside the Vatican and in secret. They have to get rid of their telephones, there's no outside interruptions and they come together in prayer reflection.

  • 13:13:10

    MOROZOWICHThey will have a sort of spiritual retreat where they will try to discern the will of God and then they will go and they will elect and it has to be a choice of two-thirds of the whole electorate that's present. So it's really a magnanimous, you know, decision. It's, you know, looking for some sense of their vision for the future of this church.

  • 13:13:37

    NNAMDIAnd it's likely to have a global impact but it's also likely to have a local impact. You mentioned the cardinals who will be voting on this, one such is our own Donald Wuerl, archbishop of the Washington diocese. He's also chancellor of Catholic University.

  • 13:13:54

    MOROZOWICHHe was elevated to cardinal under Pope Benedict XVI and he has since been appointed a member of the congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, which promotes and safeguards church doctrine. How does that kind of influence reflect itself here in the Washington diocese and maybe around the world?

  • 13:14:13

    MOROZOWICHWell, you never know. Cardinal Wuerl might be the next pope but it's hard for me to imagine that an American be made a pope. But the experience shows the universality of the church and it really helps to heighten the sense that, you know, that we're all part of one greater bond and in this case it's the bond of the church.

  • 13:14:38

    MOROZOWICHAnd it helps to, you know, remind the faithful in the Washington that, you know, we have a close link. That our leader has a say in who this next person will be that will guide the church and after all it really calls us to a deepening of faith as Pope Benedict has called this year of faith and is really called the church to reflect on faith and how we're called to respond anew to God. I think it'll, it'll hopefully have the effect of renewing people and fostering growth and depth of that faith of God.

  • 13:15:19

    NNAMDIAnd I guess because Donald Wuerl, archbishop of the Washington diocese, is a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which promotes and safeguards church doctrine. Can you talk a little bit about the influence that Pope Benedict XVI has had on church doctrine. He is credited with kind of bringing it back to a more traditional doctrine.

  • 13:15:43

    MOROZOWICHWell, you know, Pope Benedict XVI, while he was Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Ratzinger, he was the prefect of the Congregation of Doctrine of Faith under John Paul II. So he has spent a lot of time and Pope Ratzinger, if you will, Pope Benedict has been very clearly focused on helping the church to deepen its understanding of the Second Vatican Council.

  • 13:16:12

    MOROZOWICHThis is an important role, it really is calling the church to see what God is looking at in our lives today and how God is calling us forward in a new and wonderful way to respond to this. Sometimes there were lots of people who had different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.

  • 13:16:36

    MOROZOWICHSome people even thought that it was a, you know, a turning away upon the past. But, in fact, the church always is trying to fulfill tradition which is that belief which is handed on century after century, person to person. And that at times, you know, it takes different forms and expressions whether it be through the voice of someone like Thomas Aquinas or the voice of Mother Teresa. In all of these we hear the one voice of God speaking.

  • 13:17:11

    NNAMDIThe Catholic Church's center of power is still based in Europe but a majority of its billion plus members live in developing nations. Is that reality likely to play into this election of the next pope, Fr. Morozowich?

  • 13:17:25

    MOROZOWICHI think that that's a definite possibility. When we look at the church and we see how the church in the whole southern hemisphere is growing and we realize that there are so many varieties of approaches to problems and I think that this will help to, you know, bring new air, if you will, and new approaches and a vibrancy and a vitality to the mission of the church. And I'm thinking now of the church in China and what a wonderful witness that would be even if the next pope comes from China.

  • 13:18:04

    NNAMDIFather Mark Morozowich is dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America where he's also professor of liturgical studies and sacramental theology. Father Morozowich, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:18:17

    MOROZOWICHMy pleasure, thank you.

  • 13:18:19

    MOROZOWICHWe're going to take a short break. When we come back the future of the Foreign Service in the U.S. and challenging times. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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