U-M experts available to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation

February 11, 2013

ANN ARBOR—Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation at month’s end due to age and declining health has stunned Catholics and others worldwide. The University of Michigan has experts to discuss this unexpected development—the first time in nearly 600 years that the pope has resigned from his post.

Gabriele Boccaccini, professor of Near Eastern Studies, says the pope’s resignation is not totally unique. Benedict XVI is the seventh pope to resign and “his resignation in itself does not imply any major theological change in the understanding of the role of the Papacy.”

“Benedict XVI’s resignation highlights the incompatibility between the growing political role attributed to the pope in contemporary times—which would require young and energetic leaders and shorter periods of rule—and his more traditional role as representative for life of the Catholic Church,” he said. “In today’s world, it is impossible to have younger popes and shorter terms without some mechanisms of resignation.”

Boccaccini can be reached at (734) 741-1556 or gboccaccini@yahoo.com.

Brian Porter-Szücs, professor of history, is an expert in Roman Catholicism.

“Because this is so incredibly unusual, it is hard to know for sure how events will proceed over the coming weeks,” he said. “I expect that the selection of a new pope will come more quickly than usual, because the process can move forward without the usual period of mourning over the death of the previous pope.

“In many ways the selection of a pope is like any leadership struggle, but in other ways it is quite distinctive. There will be backstage lobbying, various alliances will be formed and broken, and supporters of the leading candidates will try to cajole and persuade the cardinals. But what makes the process unique is the fact that the participants sincerely believe that God is working through them during this moment of choice. That places significant constraints on what they can and cannot say, and it forces partisanship to be framed within the rhetoric of faith.”

Porter-Szücs can be reached at (734) 330-2626 or baporter@umich.edu.

Ronald Inglehart, director of the World Values Surveys and a research professor at the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research, has looked at religion around the world and in the U.S. He can offer some perspective on changes in religiosity in the U.S. compared to other regions of the world. He can be reached at (734) 936-1767 or rfi@umich.edu.

Jon Miller, a research scientist at the Center for Political Studies, has written “The Generation X Report” and could talk about how important religion is to Gen X adults in the U.S. He can be contacted at (734) 615-3377 or jondm@umich.edu.

Ruth Dunkle, professor of social work, can discuss issues involving gerontology and how the elderly copes with physical and psychological functioning. She can be reached at (734) 763-6575 or redunkle@umich.edu.

Emily Nicklett, assistant professor of social work, can discuss aging, health disparities in chronic disease, social support and social mobility. She can be reached at (734) 763-6282 or enicklet@umich.edu.