Monday, 11 February 2013

Pope Benedict resigns

The news of Pope Benedict's resignation comes as a shock to many simply because it has happened so rarely in the history of the church. His predecessor, John Paul II, deliberately lived out the infirmity of his old age in the glare of publicity in order to highlight the importance of the struggles of later life. Pope  Benedict seems to have a very different motivation for going that is equally humble and rational. Here is what he said:

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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

Knowing when to let go of a role, especially one of high profile, takes as much wisdom as it does courage. We have seen how both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher stayed too long in their roles. Perhaps that happens because those who fill those roles are drawn into a kind of grandiosity in their thinking that clouds the reality of their fallibility. That is not the case with Benedict, he seems to be acutely aware of his fallibility in guiding the church.

All of these thoughts seem to pale into insignificance before the fact that Benedict is already 85 years old. He should be tucked up by the fire with a blanket and some good reading. Above all he should not be exploited by a curial system that seems resistant to change and at times insensitive to individual needs. There is a danger that the curial system in the Vatican will be the rock on which the church will founder unless the next pontiff organises a good re-fit of the whole curial system. Perhaps that will be Benedicts greatest legacy; that if the church can develop its thinking in regard to the resignation of a pope what else might be able to change?