Pope Benedict XVI makes modern history with resignation

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

For the first time since 1415, there will be a living ex-Pope, as Benedict XVI announced today that he will be resigning from the Papacy on February 28.

In leading a church with a billion members and being one of the most influential people in the world, I feel that the fact that he is resigning is a remarkable show of humility and something which should be applauded. I’m not sure how conservative Catholics will receive this. But for those outside the church (and for more nominal Catholics), I think that the pope’s recognition of his failing health and his inability to execute the job to the necessary degree of aplomb is in the best interest of the Church.

There had been previous rumblings about the possibility of the elderly Pontiff stepping down at some point. But today’s official announcement is a shock to many. Some articles even saying that those inside the Vatican were not even expecting this announcement at this time.

Given that a Pope has not resigned in 598 years, to me, the most significant aspect of this move is whether or not it will become more common with future Pope’s. While people are living longer than ever, that doesn’t mean that individuals are always of sound mind or body. There will undoubtedly be elderly Pontiffs who fight age and senility and who would be doing a better service to the Church to bow out gracefully. A person can be feeble and ineffective in that role for years. That benefits no one. If a person is not in a position to effectively carry out the various roles of the Pope in the modern world, resignation is the most logical decision.

And that’s largely what the Pope said in his announcement of resignation:

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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

Some might question if he’s getting out now before a scandal breaks. But I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that. Benedict XVI became Pope in the early years of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. I wouldn’t assume that there’s another smoking gun that’s worse than what we already know (though I could obviously be proven wrong).

I’m curious if more philosophical Catholics might oppose this move as the idea of a Pope not being of sound mind to be Pope seems to lead to a contradiction with the dogmatic view of Papal Infallibility. But I’ll have to save that discussion for another day.


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