Paul VI: secret resignation letter

paul vi

“We, Paul VI… declare, in the case of infirmity, that it is presumed to be incurable, or of long duration… or in the case of another serious and prolonged impediment… to renounce” to “our office”.

The top-secret letter on which many hypotheses were made but which no one had ever seen, clearly shows Pope Montini’s unmistakable handwriting.

It bears the date of 2 May 1965 and was therefore handwritten by the Pontiff from Brescia when he was not old or ill, but only two years after his election, with the Council still open.

It represents the far-sighted gesture of a Pope who wants to protect the Church from a potential long incapacity: a letter of early renunciation, to be given to the cardinal dean so that he may disclose it to the other cardinals in declaring the pontiff fallen.

It is the most significant novelty of the book “The Boat of Paul” (St. Paul, pg. 240), edited by the Regent of the Papal Household, Father Leonardo Sapienza, author of numerous essays containing unpublished works by the Pope from Brescia.

The book, which will soon be in bookstores, is a treasure of documents, letters and messages of Paul VI, unknown until today.

The resignation letter – or rather the letters, because with the letter of resignation there along came a letter addressed to the Secretary of State – is certainly the most striking news.

It is well known that several Popes of the last century had thought of renunciation: Pius XII, whom Hitler had been planning to kidnap, John XXIII for he was sick, and then Paul VI.

But with Montini, we finally have a written document.

A document that has certainly been in the hands of John Paul II, who, although tried by Parkinson’s disease, decided not to withdraw.

His successor Benedict XVI would be the first in two thousand years of Church history to resign because he no longer felt able to bear the weight of the pontificate.

The text of the main letter, “confidential” and addressed to the Dean of the Sacred College, on letterhead with the papal coat of arms, opens with a paragraph worthy of a Father of the Church.

“We Paul VI, through divine Providence Bishop of Rome and Pontiff of the universal Church, in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit, – invoked the name of Jesus Christ, our Master, our Lord and our Saviour …”.

An entrustment to Mary and to Saint Joseph follows.

Then the wording of the actual renunciation, with all the details.

“We declare, in case of infirmity, that it is presumed to be incurable, or of long duration, and which prevents us from sufficiently exercising the functions of our apostolic ministry, or in the case of another serious and prolonged impediment equally representing an obstacle, to renounce our sacred and canonical office, as Bishop of Rome, as Head of the same Holy Catholic Church, in the hands of the Cardinal Dean… leaving to him, together at least with the Cardinals in charge of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Cardinal Vicar for the city of Rome … the faculty to accept and make operative our resignations, that only the superior good of the Holy Church suggests us”.

At the bottom of the page there is the handwritten signature and date, “St Peter’s, on Good Shepherd’s Sunday, II after Easter, II May 1965, II of our Pontificate”.

It is interesting to note that Paul VI does not only refer to a disease, but also to the possibility of “another serious and prolonged impediment”. Continue, to read Paul VI’s letter

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