By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tFor the second time in fourteen months, Benedict XVI has paid homage to a predecessor who quit the papacy after only five months, spurning the power struggles and regal trappings which surrounded it: St. Celestine V, whose pontificate ran from July 5 to December 3 in 1294.
Improbably, Celestine V has emerged as a key point of reference and role model for Benedict XVI – not in the sense of resigning his office, but rather the personal humility, lack of lust for power and glory, and efforts at reconciliation which Benedict associates with his 13th century predecessor.
Those qualities, according to Vatican observers, are at the heart of an “interior reform” Benedict is trying to promote in the church, and perhaps especially in its clerical culture. To the extent that Benedict has an “exit strategy” from the various crises currently plaguing the church and his papacy, this interior reform would appear to be it – and Celestine V, at least informally, is arguably its patron saint.