Pope Benedict the XVI announced his resignation today, citing ill health. Benedict’s resignation will go into effect February 28th. Benedict’s brother told the Associated Press that Benedict had been considering the decision for months as his health declined. Benedict had arthritis and couldn’t make the walk to the altar of St. Peter’s Basillica, instead using a moving platform to approach the altar. Also, Benedict’s doctor had advised him not to take any more transatlantic trips.
Just to be clear, resigning is something that the Pope has the power to do. He isn’t violating canon law, as some rumors allege. However, only five popes have ever left their office while alive, and Benedict is the first to retire citing age-related concerns.
So what happens now? Between the Pope’s resignation and the selection of the new pope, the central bureaucracy of the Vatican will keep things running smoothly. The conclave to choose the next pope could convene by mid-March. Three “Vatican Insiders” told USA Today who the perceived front-runners are. Unsurprisingly, they’re all European – except for one Canadian. But two other insiders “dropped surprisingly clear hints that the next pope could be Latino“, according to the Telegraph. There are also a couple of African Cardinals in the running. So basically, nobody knows what’s going on, but a lot of people know which Cardinals are popular, and can tell news organizations which Cardinals are popular. If you want to know more about the selection process for the Pope, look here or here.
Many world leaders had kind words for Benedict. Barack Obama said something nice, if scripted. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, praised the pope as an example to the elderly. “If the pope himself has now, after thorough consideration, come to the conclusion that he no longer has sufficient strength to exercise his office, that earns my very highest respect. In our time of ever-lengthening life, many people will be able to understand how the pope as well has to deal with the burdens of aging.” If you want to get in on the pope nostalgia, here’s a slideshow.
Others were less kind. Anne Doyle, co-director of Bishopaccountability.org, said, “Joseph Ratzinger leaves the papacy having failed to achieve what should have been his job one: to rectify the incalculable harm done to the hundreds of thousands of children sexually abused by Catholic priests. He leaves hundreds of culpable bishops in power and a culture of secrecy intact.”
Abraham Foxman, the somewhat problematic leader of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, gave an ambiguous yet positive statement. ““Pope Benedict XVI reconfirmed the official Catholic position that God’s covenant with the Jewish people at Sinai endures and is irrevocable. He said that the Catholic Church should not try and convert Jews. There were bumps in the road during this papacy … but he listened to our concerns and tried to address them, which shows how close our two communities have become in the last half century, and how much more work we need to do together to help repair a broken world.”
Meanwhile, Italian politician Alessandra Mussolini said, “The pope is not any man. He is the vicar of Christ. He should stay on to the end, go ahead and bear his cross to the end. This is a huge sign of world destabilization that will weaken the Church.” To be fair, this is the same woman who once said, “It is better to be a fascist than a faggot.”
On the more humorous side, James Heffernan makes the semi-serious case that Stephen Colbert should be pope, and the Huffington Post has a slideshow of all the crazy gifts Benedict has received over the years.
One can’t help but wonder of the tumult in the Catholic Church was part of Benedict’s reason for leaving. Benedict’s tenure has seen the widening of sexual abuse scandals in the church and a growing schism between what the Catholic institution espouses as doctrine and what Catholics actually believe. As we’ve seen, many hold Benedict culpable for a failure to address sexual assault of children by the church, which is certainly deserved. Gawker has a collection of links to the not-so-nice things Benedict has said and done (although I strongly disagree with their insinuation that he quit solely because of scandal – the dude can barely walk, guys – also, liking fashion a lot doesn’t mean Benedict is gay, and its offensive to assume so).
At the same time, Benedict was a brilliant thinker and theologian. I may not have shared his views, but he’s certainly a smart guy who’s spent a lot of time thinking about what is right. He even had a debate with famous German academic Jurgen Habermas. I wonder if the central problem most people have with Benedict’s tenure is more the fault of the Cardinals who chose him – the church needed a pragmatist, they went with an academic.
Personally, I’d like to see the Catholic Church elect a progressive, non-European pope who can work to clean up the institutional culture at the Catholic Church and help the Church resolve its internal contradictions. But I’d also like to see Dennis Kucinich become President, so what I want clearly doesn’t have a huge effect on what happens in the world.
Expect some coverage and reflections from Alan, our resident Catholic, in the coming week.
You can read Benedict’s resignation speech here.