John Paul II mulled resigning, too

MANILA, Philippines – The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI this month sends shockwaves across the world. 

By resigning, is Benedict XVI taking his cue from John Paul II?

A best-selling book reveals John Paul's plan to quit the papacy. The book Why He is a Saint contains his resignation letter among other documented details to support his case for sainthood.

In the book, a letter by John Paul shows he considered retiring at 75, like ordinary bishops.

The sickly John Paul asks his closest friends about this, “consulting in particular with then-cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

The book doesn't discuss the response of the German-born Joseph Ratzinger, who eventually becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

It simply says John Paul abandoned the idea of a retirement age.

In two letters, however, John Paul says cardinals should consider him resigned “in the case of an infirmity that is judged to be incurable and that prevents me from exercising [adequately] the duties of the Petrine ministry.”

John Paul vows to carry on as long as he could. 

He tells a doctor in 1994: “You must heal me. And I must heal. Because there is no place in the Church for a pope emeritus.”

The last time he led Holy Week rites, John Paul says: “Jesus did not descend from the cross. Why should I? … I have to make it to the end.”

Two decades after he thought of resigning, his successor Benedict quits the papacy. 

He cites health reasons, and says he recognizes his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted” to him. In his biography published in 2010, he already says it's a pope's right – and obligation – to resign if he cannot fulfill his duties.

Another telltale sign: he often prays at the tomb of the 13th century saint Celestine V, who issued a decree allowing pontiffs to quit.

A leading theologian who worked with then Cardinal Ratzinger, Fr Catalino Arevalo says Benedict made a reasonable decision.

FR CATALINO AREVALO, FORMER MEMBER, INT'L THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION: It's a tremendous act of spiritual freedom, and a tremendous act of courage, and it is a great legacy that he leaves behind in the Church. And I say, I think it is a great act of a great man.

Arevalo says Benedict's resignation clarifies the role of a Catholic pope.

AREVALO: By resigning he makes it very clear, the pope is a servant of the Church. The title that has been used for centuries – Servus Servorum Dei, the Servant of the Servants of God. The Church is much bigger than the Pope, and here when the Pope, as a human person, as a human being, reaches the point of inadequacy, that's as a human being, but the Church goes on.

Experts say the first resignation in 600 years will have a long-term impact on the Church. Despite their prominence, will this be the start of former popes, roaming the corridors of the Vatican, without influence, without a voice?

Paterno Esmaquel, Rappler, Manila.