Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XIV announced that he would resign the papacy – something that hasn’t happened in over six centuries. The Pope prayerfully came to the conclusion that his “strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Although he has many admirers, the current Pope is not the beloved figure his predecessor was. He faced controversy over remarks that angered Muslims, his handling of the sexual abuse crisis before he became Pope, his dealings with the Society of St. Pius X, and a number of other things.
My own views on the resignation are mixed, but I thought I’d share a couple of reactions to the news.
First, it takes wisdom, courage and humility to step down from a position of power and authority. It is actually pretty rare for someone to say, essentially, “I am no longer able to do the job to which I have been appointed in the way I believe it needs to be done, so I am stepping down.” That is especially true of this position, since there is no precedent in modern times for a Pope to resign. So I have enormous respect that Pope Benedict was able to do so. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of Pope John Paul II remaining Pope through years of illness until his death, I think the Catholic Church right now can not afford years of a pope incapable of putting full energy into the position.
Second, I think Jim Martin is absolutely right that one of the greatest legacies (Martin says “most lasting legacy”) of Pope Benedict’s papacy are his books on Jesus. Martin opines
Far more people will most likely read those moving testaments to the person who is at the center of his life—Jesus of Nazareth—than may read all of his encyclicals combined. Others may disagree about this aspect of his pontificate, but in these books, the pope brought to bear decades of scholarship and prayer to the most important question that a Christian can ask: Who is Jesus? This is the pope’s primary job–to introduce people to Jesus–and Pope Benedict did that exceedingly well.
If the Pope’s resignation allows him to write more books like this, that will be a great contribution, perhaps a greater contribution than he could make staying in the papacy. Whether that will happen is not clear; I read something yesterday suggesting he may not even write anymore.