As everyone will know by now Pope Benedict XVI resigned from office yesterday. This move in itself was unprecedented and broke a 600 year long taboo.  I had always understood that to be “called” to the highest office in the Roman Catholic Church was a job for life and that one could not just throw in the towel when one had enough.  So, in some ways, I applaud the man for his sense of realism and for recognising that he was no longer equipped for the job.  I know there are many Catholics out there who are having a hard time understanding his decision – it is like some of the fabric of their lives has been destroyed forever.

Pope Benedict XVI has been an easy target for the permanent critics of the Roman Catholic Church.  Firstly he was German and as a man of a certain age and like all men of his age he served with the Hitler Youth.   A Pope with a Nazi history – not the best public relations start.

In fact, my personal view is that public relations were this Pope’s nemesis.

Whilst in office, he had to deal with all the fallout from the world wide evidence of sexual abuse and the subsequent cover – ups by the officials and priesthood of his Church.

He took a hard line on homosexuality – one which was increasingly out of step with the rest of society – declaring that gay marriage underlined the future of humanity itself.

He condemned thousands to death around the world by his belief that the use of condoms “aggravated” the AIDS crisis.

Last week also saw the report on the part played by the state and the Catholic Church in the Magdalene Laundries scandal in Ireland published.

These are well known, well debated areas, of Roman Catholic Policy where he has been making his Church’s policy.  These are areas of common doctrine.

What I will question after discussion with my partner is the timing.

Today is Festival Day in Catholic countries – Shrove Tuesday in England – i.e. the last day before the start of Lent tomorrow.  Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter where Christians prepare for Easter – the most important day in the Christian and Roman Catholic calendar – the time where they celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is a time of fasting, self-discipline and preparation for their holiest of days.

To my mind leaving the Roman Catholic Church without its leader at such a time is a very puzzling decision.  To the Catholics I know it is at least bewildering and to some a betrayal.  For them to lose the leader of their Church it is hard enough – to lose him at this time is a double blow.

The cynic in me thinks rat and sinking ship – too many revelations coming up – my partner is more kind and thinks the poor man is just failing fast.  Maybe there is a middle line which is that he and his Church cannot cope with the modern age and the fact that with Facebook and Twitter and 24 hours news people have far more information far quicker than they have ever done before and that the Vatican is not yet equipped to deal with it.

Time will tell.

Disclaimer – I am not a Catholic, in fact I am not a member of any organised Church or religion.  However, as these institutions are at the core of many culture’s governments and attitudes towards their people – including me , I feel I have some right to comment on such a momentous event. My current partner’s family are Catholic – the older generation, and deeply so.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for so quickly writing this fantastic response to the Pope’s resignation, Nicola! I, too, found the news of his departure odd and strange. 600 years since a Pope willingly gave up the robes?

    There could be a rising scandal — but he hasn’t cared yet about that at all — why would he care now?

    Is he ill? Perhaps. Maybe he has a bodily death sentence that will take him in a month?

    Why not just let the ravages the body take him, then? I believe it is because this Pope wants to make his own mark — he’s lived in the shadow of his predecessor too long, and he’s running out of time. He wants to be unforgotten — and not just for the death of others. He wants HIS death noted for the rest of Time. He wanted to make history — for the first time in 600 years.

    That’s my cynical, atheistic take on it from afar, anyway. SMILE!

      1. I think it’s going to be funny watching what an ex-Pontiff does after quitting. Does he join Sarah Palin in Alaska in the Quitters Club? Does he go cut sagebrush in Texas with G. W. Bush in retirement?

        How will the Church deal with the man who used to be God’s vicar on earth — with the replacement God-On-Earth chosen one? Is it even Benedict’s choice to quit? Did God instruct him to do so or what?

        How will the next Pope deal with a former Pope who isn’t really going to go away?

        1. The King is dead – long live the King!

          It really has left them with an unholy mess to untangle. I suspect he will retreat with his books – he is by all accounts a very learned man. However I am not sure that he will be allowed to – there are just too many unanswered questions.

          How they are going to cope with two chosen by God to lead their church I do not know.

          Stepping into a dead mans shoes is bad enough – stepping intoa live man shoes is a whole different matter.

  2. It does indeed seem peculiar to resign, when the normal thing to do is to keep at it until he passed away. One of my wife’s friends asked, “Why doesn’t he just pray for better health if that’s the issue?”

    1. Again this is something I am coming across quite a lot today – why did he not pray for help so he could make it through until his time to leave this earth. Some people are asking if he has lost his faith . .

  3. UPDATE – From my better half a quote from todays Le Monde Newspaper

    http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2013/02/12/un-acte-humble-et-lucide_1830694_3232.html

    ” Benoît XVI avait déjà affirmé, en 2010, qu’un pape “a le droit et, selon les circonstances, le devoir de se retirer” s’il sent ses forces “physiques, psychologiques et spirituelles” lui échapper.”

    Roughly translated by P who is French

    Benedict XVI had already said in 2010 that a Pope “has the right, depending on circumstances, to choose to retire , if his strength “physical, psychological and spiritual start to escape him.

    The article goes on to say in broad terms how much respect this decision has bought the ex Pope and that this was a modern decision that the previous Pope was not strong enough to make and the writter goes on to hope that this breif glimpse of modernity will continue when the conclave convenes.

    1. There was a NYC priest on TV this morning saying the Pope referred to quitting in the past — but nobody thought he would ever actually do it — the clergy are still shocked he did this. They are clearly confused and, perhaps, a little angry with him. I don’t see a lot of respect for the decision…

  4. Far more radical that my ideas of “nuns on a bus” which was a play on a phrase used much in UK politics – which is what does the man on the bus think – ie the every day bloke on the bus . All power to them !

  5. You know more than I do and I learnt something today – which is good. Walk in Love is a good path to follow and one which I do in my own way.

    A little too far away for me to join you however as I currently reside in Portugal.

  6. This news about the Pope’s resignation swept around my campus like wildfire. People are coming up with so many theories and ideas about what is going on like they have nothing better to do. I think the most interesting one that I’ve heard so far is that people are saying he is using the fact that he is sick to cover up the real reason why he is resigning. Apparently, a majority of people on my campus believe that the real reason he’s leaving was because of the comments he made towards gay marriage. Why can’t the man just be sick or come to the legitimate realization that he is no longer equipped for the job?

    1. I suspect he recognised he was no longer fit for purpose – he is elderly and his church is under a lot of criticism given his churches stance on gay marriage, abortion, aids , covering up sex scandals, and it is all moving to quickly for him.
      I could be being kind here ………………..

  7. UPDATE!

    It gets thicker:

    In archdiocese documents released under a court order earlier this month, Mahony is revealed to have taken actions deliberately contrived to avoid legal prosecution of priests who had sexually abused — and even raped — children. The documents were so damaging that Mahony, now retired and once thought to be a contender for the papacy, was publicly rebuked by current Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez, and stripped of any public duties, an unprecedented censure of a cardinal archbishop by his successor.

    Amid the cache of church records, released as part of a settlement between the archdiocese and 500 sex-abuse victims, are several letters to Ratzinger from Mahoney, in which the California prelate reports to the Vatican his reasons for various actions (such as defrocking) taken against the offending priests. The records amount to some 30,000 pages, so their full contents have yet to be pored through by investigators and journalists.

    http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/pope-benedict-stepping-down-shocking-abdication?paging=off

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