Stunning as it is, the NEWS this morning that Pope Benedict XVI will step down later this month fullfills speculation that he fueled himself with a passage in his 2010 book “Light of the World,” in which he wrote that if a pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church considered himself “no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of carrying out the duties of his office,” he would have “the right, and in some circumstances the obligation, to resign.”
Benedict’s resignation also is proper grist for this blog’s mill, in that the Vatican has considerable political influence around the world, including here in the United States, where tens of millions of people claim membership in the Catholic Church.
The end of Benedict’s papacy inevitably will touch off widespread speculation on who might be his successor and how the church might change as a result.
And already, there are analyses of Benedict’s stewardship of this largest of the world’s Christian denominations — THIS ONE, for example:
The former Joseph Ratzinger came to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church with a reputation as a challenging, conservative intellectual. But the messages he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics.
Ratzinger had spent almost a quarter of a century in the Vatican, so it was reasonable for the cardinals who elected him to assume he understood it inside out, and would be keen to improve its workings. But, although he had been an influential and trusted lieutenant of John Paul II, the new German pope was a paradox.
On the one hand, he was intellectually remorseless. Not for nothing had he attracted the nickname “God’s rottweiler”. Yet, like many scholars, he was personally timid – wholly lacking in that desk-thumping vigour needed to foist reforms on clerics whose resistance to change is the stuff of legend.
The abuse scandals dominated his nearly eight years as leader of the world’s Catholics. Before his accession, there had been scandals in the US and Ireland. But in 2010, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.
The pope was personally affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly reassigned to duties that, in time, allowed him to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that Benedict might have a certain advantage over popes who died in office:
He’ll likely have more influence on the choice of a successor.