“Know why Pope Benedict XVI is retiring? He felt his boss was getting a bit ‘holier than thou.’” That’s the text I received from my uncle the other day and it’s tied for my favorite pope joke so far along with “So is the Pope giving up being the Pope for lent?”
If you’re not Catholic you might not realize why all the fuss about another old guy retiring. So here’s the fuss: being Pope is generally a for-life deal. Not a single Pope has resigned since Gregory XII in 1417, which, by the way, was in an effort to help end the Western Schism of the Catholic Church, aka that period of time when there were three Popes at once. Obviously, someone had to resign.
The thing is, Catholics believe the Pope is appointed, indirectly, by God. You can’t simply quit a job given to you by God when it gets old. God’s retirement plan really doesn’t kick in until after you’re dead.
However, Pope Benedict XVI said that he plans to resign Feb. 28 because of his old age and failing strength. In the announcement released by the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said of his strength, “which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
All joking aside, if you can’t do a job properly, you should not continue to try. Ideally, the Pope should be able to be out and about, visiting other countries. Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II visited over 100 countries in his 27 year stint as Pope. Pope Benedict XVI, since gaining the papacy in 2005, has visited 25 different countries, but with failing health, he won’t be able to continue to make the trips Catholics around the world expect of him.
Furthermore, the Pope is expected to lead the Catholic Church, to provide council to all cardinals, bishops, and priests under him. As a matter of practicality, a man who must be consistently worried about his health, whose strength is failing him, is probably not going to be the best leader.
I’m sure it was not a lightly-made decision, and it’s a decision I am personally, as a member of the Catholic Church, glad Pope Benedict XVI made. If his health is such an issue that it would affect the way he acts as Pope, resigning is the best thing to do. It opens up the door for a new Pope who can perform all the duties of Pope without the anxiety of bad health preventing him from doing the best possible job. I would much rather see a Pope resign than a Pope who doesn’t resign and fails to be a good leader of one of the most influential religions in the world.
Photo courtesy of SecretaryofDefense/Flickr