As a former Catholic, I keep an eye on the news when I hear about the dittos of my former tribe, so I was surprised yesterday morning when looking at Yahoo! News, I learned that Pope Benedict XVI announced he’s resigning at the end of this month. This news is a big deal because this is the first time a pope’s resigning in almost 600 years, and when his tenure started 8 years ago, it came after the seemingly endless term of Pope John Paul II – when JP died, the Catholic world waiting with its collective breath held to see in whose direction the smoke would blow.
Before I move on, I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of a pope, and I’m even less of a fan of the current guy that’s about to leave. I don’t think that Pope Benedict XVI successfully led the Catholic Church in these modern times. His direct involvement in covering up sexual abuses by priests throughout the year, his lackadaisical approach and reaction to the sex abuse scandals, his mulish stance on women’s rights, gay rights, multiculturalism, and his goofy stance on Islam, as well as his spotty background (his involvement with Hitler Youth – an organization that was required by law) call conspired against him; for many he couldn’t serve as a moral leader of a body as large and as ungainly as the Catholic Church.
Personally, I look at the papacy the same way I look at the British royal family: a great idea long, long time ago, but really irrelevant at this point. As we see through our neighborhood churches, convents, and rectories, priests and nuns are doing a great job – sometimes even better – than the folks in charge. I don’t see a need for this ornate, elaborate pomp and circumstance that surrounds this figure, who should be relegated to figure-head status at this point.
To explain his decision, the pope cited his health and advanced age as the reason for his decision. There are conspiracy folks who are thinking that it might be his involvement in the sex abuse scandals that may be prompting him to leave. Some believe that there is a hidden mystery or scandal that is waiting to be uncovered.
The truth is probably what the guy himself said: he’s getting a little too old. The job of the pope is not an easy one: he has to lead a faith that has over one billion members worldwide – the man’s gotta travel all around the world, making foreign journeys to nations to preach and sermonize about the virtues of Catholic morality (think how tired Hillary Clinton looked at the end of her four-year run as secretary of state). Plus, he’s in charge of selling severely damaged goods – I mean, at this point, who can say with full candor that the Catholic Church is a paragon of morality?
This doesn’t mean I think the Catholic Church is on its way out – I hope that the next pope will adopt a more progressive, liberation theology, to address the needs of the world as it really is.