GetReligion logoLet the record show that Terry Mattingly has admitted making a mistake. A couple of weeks ago he took the press to task for using the word “resign” to report Pope Benedict’s decision to step down. “Abdicate” was, he claimed, le mot juste. But late last week he allowed as how his shot had been wide of the mark:

Now, ever since then I have followed the debates back and forth about this about [sic] the proper translations of the Latin laws, etc., etc. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the word “abdicate” is the appropriate term, but it would be a stretch say [sic] — as I did in the headline on my post — that “resign” has been proven wrong, or inaccurate.

Uh, yeah. As in, the official English version of Canon Law uses “resign,” and high-ranking canonists such as Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield say “resign” is the right word. ” On the sound journalistic rule that religious bodies should get to determine their own terminology except in exceptional circumstances, I think it’s safe to say that the word “abdicate” is not the appropriate term.

Oddly, Mattingly continues to insist that his own preference derives from Richard Ostling, the longtime religion reporter whose new blog he was puffing: “Ostling had stressed that the proper word for the action taken the other day by Pope Benedict XVI was ‘abdication,’ not ‘resignation.’” But Ostling stressed no such thing. He used the two words interchangeably. When he wrote, “Like England’s monarchs or certain other religious dynasts, popes simply do not resign,” he did not mean that “resign” was the wrong word, but that it is just not done for a pope to resign. The next sentence begins, “The last one who did…”

Now, you may ask, why belabor poor old tmatt over such trivialities? Didn’t he pretty much do the right thing and confess the error of his ways? The answer, I’m afraid, is, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Which more or less properly translated means, “Who will nitpick the nitpickers?”

Categories: Beliefs

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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