Today Pope Benedict XVI gave his two-weeks notice. He’s retiring to a life of prayer after 8 years in office. This is the first time a Pope has resigned since Gregory XII in 1415. But is it the right thing for him to have done?
I have just a few thoughts to add to the whirlwind of news surrounding the matter.
1) This is a truly humble and unusual way to end his pontificate. Benedict has always been his own man. I think he is setting a good example, that when one needs a rest, one may take it.
2) Benedict was never the exciting rock-star type pope that John Paul II was. But in his own way, Benedict is making an impact, even at the end. He is reminding the world that the tradition is deep… really deep… and if one needs resources for facing difficult situations (e.g. wanting to resign) one can find them there if one looks.
The Catholic tradition is so huge that it is hard for any one person just to comprehend the size of it (thousands of years and millions of people), much less understand it. As a friend of mine recently said of St. Thomas Aquinas – who is just one of thousands of major figures in the tradition – “Saint Thomas wrote 8 million words. And I haven’t read them all.”
Pope Benedict had a problem and he went to the tradition to solve it, in a precedented, but non-typical way. Smart man.
3) I will miss Benedict’s humility. I will also miss his environmental teaching. Benedict installed solar panels on the Vatican’s roof, made a goal of the Vatican becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country, and spoke many times on the need to protect the environment. He also, of course, supported all the other teachings of the Church, but on the environment he worked to push forward some important new teachings for our times.
4) While I am truly surprised that this happened right now, I am also not entirely surprised that this is the way Benedict decided to end his pontificate. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to be pope. He accepted the role reluctantly. A few years ago when he visited the tomb of Pope Saint Celestine V – the pope who made resigning from the papacy possible – I thought that this might be the way Benedict chose to go out.
5) Who will succeed Pope Benedict? I have no idea. But I am sure that whatever happens things will turn out just fine. As another friend of mine noted today “The papacy is an office, not a man.” The institution of the Roman Catholic Church will roll on, with all its excesses and deficiencies, while the human parts are switched out over the millennia. It is both a sad and exciting time. Something new – and yet not new – for us to experience.
So in conclusion, should Pope Benedict XVI have stepped down? I think we, as outsiders, simply have to agree that only he knows the answer to that question. And since he is the only one that knows, we just have to trust his judgment and agree that, yes, he is doing the right thing.
What are your thoughts on the Pope’s resignation?