Pope Resigns!!February 11, 2013 at 11:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
Well, we awoke this morning to amazing news. Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, will resign at the end of this month.
I had the privilege of listening to a number of radio commentators hold forth on said development, and it was pretty entertaining. My own theory about the global fascination with the papacy has to do with how visual it is. I mean, these guys wear spectacular costumes, and ride in a pope-mobile, while the heads of many other Christian denominations wear suits and ties. If you were going to take a picture of somebody for your Easter edition, who would you choose?
But I digress. The commentators’ observations on this particular development deserve particular attention. Somebody on the BBC, maybe Lavinia Byrne, said that the pope’s resignation is a sign of the church’s modernization. Modern medicine keeps people alive long past the age when they are fit to rule physically, psychologically, or even spiritually. So popes now will resign. (JPII’s gruesome decline from Parkinson’s illustrates the point). Another commentator said B-16 was a transition pope; maybe part of the deal when he was elected was that he would stay in office only so long, then step down to make way for a longer-term pontiff.
With regard to B-16’s resignation being a modern gesture, you need to understand that he made the announcement in Latin, to a gathering of Catholic cardinals a number of whom didn’t have enough Latin to understand what he was saying. One assumes the more erudite guys translated it for them. Furthermore, Benedict began his earth-shaking announcement with the salutation “Brothers”–fratres. So much for the seven hundred million or so sorors who will, like me, get the news over the radio. The modern era began in 1492, with Columbus’s discovery of the “new” world. The Catholic Church then ostensibly entered the modern world in the 1960s, just as the rest of the world was contending with the fractures of postmodernity. Now, in 2013, the church enters the modern world a third time, with an announcement in Latin.
Another commentator raised the question of whether Benedict, by virtue of being the first pope in six hundred or so years to resign, will try to influence the selection of his successor. But even if he really does hie him to a monastery and do nothing but pray, B-16, and his larger than life predecessor John Paul II, will influence who the next pope is big-time. They appointed all of the College of Cardinals who will gather to elect the next pope (John Paul II appointed 179 of the current 199 cardinals, and Benedict the rest; this after Pope Paul VI limited the size of the college of Cardinals to 120). This means that the only likely transition will be from a seriously old conservative pope to a fairly old one.
Another commentator expressed the desire that the new pope would see to it that more power is shared with the local church. I guess the sharing of power is one of the characteristics of modernity. But consider this: even Benedict’s closest aides expressed amazement at the announcement of his resignation. The head of the second largest religious body in the world (after Sunni Islam) decided to resign his post without discussing it–the timing, the ramifications–with anybody. As Benedictine Anthony Ruff said (with amazement!) a while back, the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy, and absolute monarchs do not share power. End of story.
All this notwithstanding, I suppose a good Christian would continue to hope that the next pope will share power, or even simply implement the Second Vatican Council. As for me, I remember the election of Pope John XXIII. What a pope and a council do, the next pope can and probably will undo. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 4,769 times, I’m the fool.