John L. Allen Jr.: On popes and the problem with preemptive resignation

(Crux) Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who’s now 83 and who’s held just about every Vatican position there is at one point or another over his long career, revealed this week that St. John Paul II once showed him two letters of resignation Pope Paul VI had left behind in case he was struck by a disabling condition, and was incapable of acting to spare the Church the paralysis that would otherwise ensue.

“Paul VI was worried about a possible future disability, a grave impediment that wouldn’t allow him to carry out his ministry,” Re said, “and he wanted to be ready.”

That’s not just idle speculation coming from Re, since he’s one of the legendary “widows of Benelli,” meaning an aide to Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who was Paul VI’s right-hand man as his sostituto, or “substitute,” in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

In truth, Re’s “revelation” is more akin to a confirmation, because we’ve known for 16 years that Paul VI kept such a resignation letter in his desk, after Bishop Pasquale Macchi, the pope’s former priest-secretary, published his 2001 book Paolo VI Nella Sua Parola (“Paul VI in His Own Words”). [More]