WashPost's Horowitz Mars Otherwise Decent Item on Pope Benedict XVI with Quip About Retired Pope in Hell in Dante's 'Inferno'
Washington Post staff writer Jason Horowitz marred an otherwise decent Style section feature item on Pope Benedict's resignation in his lead paragraph, which made a crack about the pontiff's retirement by hoping it goes off better than that of Pope Celestine V, whom Dante supposedly envisioned in Hell:
VATICAN CITY — On an April 2009 visit to the Italian mountain town of Sulmona, Pope Benedict XVI solemnly placed his pallium, the vestment symbolizing his papal authority, on the tomb of Celestine V. The medieval pontiff’s abdication in 1294 had resulted in imprisonment by his successor and banishment to hell by Dante for “the great refusal.” Benedict is no doubt hoping for a better retirement plan.
But Celestine V was canonized by the church 700 years ago this May, which means that for seven centuries the Church has taught that Celestine V is in Heaven, not Hell. What's more, while Dante may have envisioned Celestine in this portion of Canto III of the Inferno...:
And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
And after it there came so long a train
Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
That ever Death so many had undone.
When some among them I had recognised,
I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
Hateful to God and to his enemies.
...the Italian poet's work does not represent the consensus of the church, but rather a fanciful, fictional envisioning of Hell and who populates it.
What's more, while papal resignation is exceedingly rare, it is not foreign to the canon law of the Church, nor is the notion that the "emeritus" title could apply to a pope post-resignation:
Can. 185 The title of emeritus can be conferred upon a person who loses an office by reason of age or of resignation which has been accepted.
Another quibble with the piece is more the fault of Horowitz's editors. Photo editors chose a rather ominous snapshot of the retiring pontiff, showing him in deep shadows. To be fair, it arguably goes well with the headline "In retirement, a mystery: As Benedict becomes emeritus, he'll chart the unknown," but that being said, it seems to fit the secular media's template to literally color the pope in a dark light wherever possible: