The historic declaration by His Holiness on Monday 11th February 2013 shocked, stunned and greatly saddened the Church
The inelegant clunky translation from Latin into English by the Vatican obscures rather than clarifies what the Pope had to say
One sentence of the Declaration sticks out on this very sad occasion:
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."
To publicly state this underlines the great humility, bravery and nobility of the man
Pope Benedict XVI has often spoken about conscience: true conscience and the errant conscience. The papacy itself is subject always to the Truth and the true conscience
One of the best known examples was at the 10th Workshop for Bishops in February 1991 (over twenty years ago) in Dallas, Texas when the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said:
"Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences, that is to say, even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds.
It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized truth's priority over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth's priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups.
I would say, when we are speaking of a man of conscience, we mean one who looks at things this way. A man of conscience, is one who never acquires tolerance, well- being, success, public standing, and approval on the part of prevailing opinion, at the expense of truth.
In this regard, Newman is related to Britain's other great witness of conscience,Thomas More, for whom conscience was not at all an expression of subjective stubbornness or obstinate heroism. He numbered himself, in fact, among those fainthearted martyrs who only after faltering and much questioning succeed in mustering up obedience to conscience, mustering up obedience to the truth which must stand higher than any human tribunal or any type of personal taste.
Thus two standards become apparent for ascertaining the presence of a real voice or conscience. First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste. Secondly, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus or to the demands of political and social power....
Let us take a formulation of Saint Basil. The love of God which is concrete in the commandments, is not imposed on us from without, the Church Father emphasizes, but has been implanted in us beforehand. The sense for the good has been stamped upon us, Augustine puts it. We can now appreciate Newman's toast first to conscience and then to the Pope.
The Pope cannot impose commandments on faithful Catholics because he wants to or finds it expedient. Such a modern, voluntaristic concept of authority can only distort the true theological meaning of the papacy.
The true nature of the Petrine office has become so incomprehensible in the modern age no doubt because we only think of authority in terms which do not allow for bridges between subject and object. Accordingly, everything which does not come from the subject is thought to be externally imposed....
In the crisis of the Church today, the power of this recollection and the truth of the apostolic word is experienced in an entirely new way where much more so than hierarchical direction, it is the power of memory of the simple faith which leads to the discernment of spirits. One can only comprehend the primacy of the Pope and its correlation to Christian conscience in this connection.
The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy.
All power that the papacy has is power of conscience.
It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity."