Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Monday. He is the first Pope in 598 years to do so — the last Pope did so in the midst of a papal leadership crisis known as the Great Western Schism, according to The New York Times. Pope Benedict is doing so because he fears his ailing strength leaves him unsuitable to perform the job.
“In today’s world,” Benedict said in his announcement, “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 St. 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” reported the Times.
The world, and the Catholic Church in particular, is left astonished by the news. Inasmuch as the Catholic Church has lost much modern public favor with its refusal to acknowledge gay rights or allow women into the priesthood, the breach in tradition on behalf of Pope Benedict comes as a resounding shock.
The Guardian noted Monday that the papacy was “foisted” upon Benedict, that he was at best an unlikely candidate for the position when he became Pope John Paul II’s successor in 2005. Aged 78 at the time of his appointment, he privately expressed fears about the burden of the role, according to the Guardian.
Some have speculated that the “Vatileaks” scandal, in which the Pope’s former butler leaked confidential documents, left the Pope compromised, isolated and powerless, according to The Boston Metro.
Even without regards to all of this, however, we must note the inherent modernity in the Pope’s decision to step down from his apparently divinely ordained position. If indeed he was chosen by God, it shows great individual governance in his refusal to carry on with it. It is perhaps the first of many changes that the Catholic Church will experience. Perhaps their new Pope will be ever more progressive.