No, I’m not going to go all Chris Crocker on you. It’s just that there’s been a fair amount of flak kicked up around The Pope’s recent announcement that he’s decided to retire. “Retire?” Some query, “I thought the job was for life!” I’ve even heard someone accuse Benedict XVI of betraying St. Peter. Seriously?
At 85, Pope Benedict is no spring chicken. He’s had heart surgery and walks with a cane. He no longer feels that his health is strong enough for him to effectively lead The Church. I think it’s admirable of him to call it quits. The Church needs a strong hand at the wheel, and if he no longer feels up to it, why make him wait out the clock, sick and feeble, unable to be more than a figurehead?
As to St. Peter, yes, he set the precedent of serving as Pope for life. However, our best guess is that he was about 65 when he was martyred, and that’s a long way from 85. He could not have guessed how lifespans would be stretched out in our time, or how much the role of Pope would change.
What’s more, Jesus said nothing about how long The Pope must serve. Our basis for this tradition comes from the idea of apostolic succession. A little flexibility is in order here, as traditions can and do change. When in doubt, the Bible tells us, go with what the Bible says. And since it says nothing about this particular instance, the Pope seems well within his rights.
I, of course, hope that our new pontiff will bring with him a wind of change to reinvigorate and reenergize our Church. It is unlikely. Cardinals tend to be old, conservative and resistant to change, and they vote based on these attributes. I’ve not much to say about any of the names being bandied about by the press; it is too early to judge. But I will say this about America’s “great white hope,” Cardinal Dolan. I hope he is not considered. I find him gleefully dismissive of women, the poor and gays at a time when The Church can no longer afford to alienate these groups. I’ll go further: I don’t think he is a kind person, or a humble one. And if the Catholic Church is to be a beacon of hope to the world, we need the kindest, most humble person we can find at the helm. Our credibility has slipped far enough, thank you very much.
The month to come will reveal much. I find it ironic — or perhaps providential — that this time coincides with Lent. What better time than now, this period of reflection and repentance, to consider what we need in a new head of the Catholic Church? I can only hope the College of Cardinals take their responsibility seriously.
I also hope that we can come together to thank Pope Benedict for his service and wish him well in retirement. I may disagree with some of his beliefs, but I honestly think he did the best job he could do. We cannot ask for more.