Monday, February 11, 2013
In light of our Holy Father’s announcement today that he will step down from the Chair of Peter at the end of this month, we need to take stock of several points that will help to put his announcement and its impact in a proper context.
First of all, several other popes, although not recent ones, have resigned their office as many news sources are reminding us today, albeit for different reasons. But no one whom I have read in this regard has discussed the plan of Pius XII who, with credible evidence that Hitler had a plan to kidnap him and hold him hostage, had arranged for his resignation if Hitler’s plan had been carried out during the Second World War. As Pope Pius noted to his closest aids, if Hitler carried out his plan, he would have had not Pius XII but Eugenio Pacelli; thus, the person in Hitler’s custody would not be the pope but a priest who was also a cardinal. It was evident that if Hitler’s plan moved forward and succeeded, the Church and the world in relatively modern times would have had to deal with the resignation of a pope. Even though Hitler’s plan was not implemented, what becomes clear is that Pius XII’s plan and Benedict XVI’s actions are similar in that the decisions both of these pontiffs made were not done lightly or out of a desire to do other things after a long life of service. They were done for the good of Christ and His Church.
Second, Pope Benedict exercised a leadership that many in the secular world do not understand. Robby has pointed out one example of this in his commentary on the remarks made by Nicholas Kristof. Another example also comes from today’s The New York Times online article by Rachel Donadio, which has since been changed, but which earlier made an allegation about his ultra-conservatism. What followed has been retained, i.e., his papacy was overshadowed by clerical abuse. Ms. Donadio called the wrong man a conservative. The case can be objectively made that Pope Benedict was an ardent advocate for the Church’s teachings because he understood not only the “what” about them but the “why” as well. I do not think Ms. Donadio, her paper, or many who consider themselves progressives will ever understand that Benedict was far more concerned about everyone that many of the strongest advocates who advance theories about human rights, which are lacking because they are based on the concept of the isolated individual who has claims to whatever he or she wants without attending responsibilities. Benedict knew the perils of this kind of thinking and the falsehoods to which it leads; moreover, he understood, lived, and preached the way for the progress of all peoples, not just some.
Third, the fact that Pope Benedict will be stepping down from the papacy does not mean that his Christian leadership will conclude, for he remains a disciple who will continue to serve as a powerful example for others. In the future, his discipleship will likely focus on two major activities. The first will be to continue his scholarly work with which the papacy interfered. The second is that he will likely spend time in his monastic habitat to pray in preparation for meeting his and our Creator. For those of us who also share health concerns associated with either old age or disease or both, his prayerful preparation for meeting God will, for many of us, be and remain a vital exercise of discipleship that needs to be adopted by anyone who claims to follow Christ.