Monday, February 11, 2013

Let Us Hopefully Not Get Into Habit of Popes that Retire

Ross Douthat has an excellent piece up on today's stunning developments. See The Pope Abdicates

I generally agree with him in this instance it might be good that Pope Benedict is taking this stance. Still I think the last part of his column is an important warning.

Yet these benefits need to be balanced against the longer term difficulties that this precedent creates for the papacy’s role within the church. There is great symbolic significance in the fact that popes die rather than resign: It’s a reminder that the pontiff is supposed to be a spiritual father more than a chief executive (presidents leave office, but your parents are your parents till they die), a sign of absolute papal surrender to the divine will (after all, if God wants a new pope, He’ll get one), and a illustration of the theological point that the church is still supposed to be the church even when its human leadership isn’t at fighting trim, whether physically or intellectually or (for that matter) morally.

This last point is underplayed, but supremely important. Catholicism’s resilience has always depended both on the power of the pontiff to sustain unity and safeguard doctrine and on the power of the Catholic faith itself to survive leaders who are wrongheaded, incompetent, senile or corrupt. (There’s a reason why relatively few popes have been canonized, and why Catholics wear their faith’s ability to recover from the Borgias as a badge of honor.) And if papal resignations became commonplace and expected, I worry that they might end up burdening the papacy with a weight it cannot bear — encouraging Catholics to lay far too much stress on the human qualities of the see of Peter’s occupant, and encouraging the world at large to judge the faith’s truth claims on whether the Vatican seemed to be running smoothly, and whether the pope’s approval ratings were robust.

So I understand why this pope made the choice it did, and I have some optimism for what his abdication means for the immediate future of the church. But I hope we have to wait another five hundred years, at least, for it to happen again.



Mark Spears said...

There has to be more to this than is being told. And if there is one thing that you can count on the Catholics for, it is that they will not tell the truth. They will coverup whatever the truth is just out of sheer habit. It makes no sense for Mr. Ratzinger to abdicate from his exalted position because of declining health in old age, as that happens to everybody and always will. He has had the past eight years to establish his policies and place the people he wants in every position, and he can rest assured that, even if he were never able to speak another word or even remain conscious, his advance directives would be carried out until countered by a successor after the mourning period following his last breath. It is not as though his whole handpicked hierarchy were going to become incapacitated along with him. The last so-called "pope" to abdicate did so in the 1400s as a negotiated settlement to a conflict, and maybe that is the case with Mr. Ratzinger also. He has to have a strong motive to go against tradition in this manner, knowing that a significant percentage of Catholics will never accept the next so-called "pope" as legitimate if he is chosen while the current so-called "pope" is still alive. These people look upon their so-called "pope" as some sort of deity, they bow down before him and kiss his ring. They are not going to accept a new one while the old one still lives, and while Ratzinger himself knows that he is no more of a "holy father" than I am, the old con-artist knows human nature well enough to know that what he did today will cause a schism in the Roman Catholic so-called "church". There has to be some strong motive other than just plain old ordinary common old age.

Anonymous said...

that's negative