A Pope Steps Down

I was caught totally off guard. When was the last time a Pope stopped poping while still wearing his Papal slippers? The answer is almost six hundred years ago. No wonder I didn’t realize this could even happen. On further review, shock turned to understanding. A Pope who was PUP (physically unable to perform the job) decided it was time to step down, and hopefully let younger healthier folks do the job. One of the great problems of course with electing Popes is that it has tended to be based on seniority and experience. And this in turn means that old folks who already have their AARP status become Popes. But frankly the job of Pope is too demanding even just physically for almost any 75-85 year old person, and it became so for Pope Benedict.

Benedict, as we now know, had had a pacemaker inserted into his heart recently. He was tired, worn out. I am not referring to world-weariness or even the weariness that comes from fighting things like the scandal of pederasty again and again in the church. I have no say whatsoever over who should be the next Pope, but if I did here is what I would use as criteria:

1) Pick someone over 50 but under 65 for a change. We need a younger person with fresh ideas not to mention someone in the peak of physical health.

2) If you can find someone who is as good and critical a thinker and theolog as Pope Benedict, by all means pick that person;

3) Pick someone who is not so wed to Catholic traditions that have not been part of ex cathedra pronouncements that he would tend to avoid some serious changes— like for example the option of a priest to be married if he did not have the gift of celibacy. This in itself would probably reduce the danger of pederasty considerably.

4) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the ecumenical discussions with Evangelical Protestants, working towards more concordats on faith and praxis.

5) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the process of weeding out superstitious practices and inessential ideas. For example, the recent dropping of the expectation that a good Catholic ought to believe in limbo is a good thing. In short, a more Biblically focused faith, and one less steeped in traditions that do not comport with the Bible (for example Jesus’ descent to the dead) would be a welcome development.

6) Pick a Pope more concerned with protecting his sheep than his shepherds when crisis arises, especially when the crisis is caused by the behavior of the shepherds themselves. Continue to set up accountability structures to protect the young, the innocent, the naive, the poor, and so on.

7) Pick a Pope from somewhere other than Europe. It would be nice to have a North American one for once, considering that English both on the Internet and off of it is the lingua franca of an increasingly global community, society, market.

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part One
Man Shoveling Snow in Lexington while Break Dancing
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part 2
Forward Thinking on “Reading Backwards”– Part Five
  • http://www.goconnecting.us Mike Copeland

    In reference to the last point, what about a Pope from the “global south”? From North America where both Protestants and Catholics are declining might be a mistake, though the point of English communication skills is important. A Pope from Africa or Latin America would be a great difference. Especially since Popes from either would be able to speak theologically to where the Church is actually growing.

  • Jaymes Lackey

    i didn’t know you had issues with the harrowing of hell.

    How do we negotiate this issue with 1 Peter 3 & 4 and it being a part of one of our major creeds?

    It would seem that there isn’t zero scriptural support.

  • Ben Witherington

    But yes there is zero support. The description in 1 Pet. 3 has to do with the testimony of Jesus to the fallen angels, as the reference to the times of Noah makes clear. And you can compare the same language in 2 Pet. 2 and in Jude about the wicked angels locked in Tartarus. Furthermore, this event did not transpire between the death and resurrection of Jesus. That involves a mistranslation of 1 Pet. 3. It transpired during the Ascension when Jesus went and proclaimed his victory over evil including over the fallen angels, which in 1 Pet. 3 are called the spirits in prison. The word prison and chains come up as well in regard to Satan in Rev. 20. None of this has anything to do with the harrowing of Hell. See the monograph published by the Pontifical Institute Press by W.J. Dalton, a Catholic scholar about the Spirits in Prison. The fact that Jesus died, and so was in the land of the dead for a while has nothing to do with the harrowing of Hell. BW3

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Although one version of the Apostles creed talks about how Jesus “descended to hell”, it is often recited as “descended to the dead”

  • Sariah

    Dr. Witherington:

    I totally agreed with what you said.


  • http://patheos david gibbs

    I agree with most of your criteria except that I think we could benefit with a pope from the developing world – Africa, Asia, Latin America/Caribbean. By the way, when Jesus was dead and in the grave who acted as the Mediator for mankind?

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi David:

    I doubt we much needed another mediator for that one and half days. And anyway, Jesus’ spirit was still alive in the afterlife anyhow. He only physically died. BW3

  • David

    The Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is being tipped by a lot of people. He is 68 years ago and speaks many languages and is a very good theologian, a disciple of Von Balthasar. I think it will either be Ouellet, Scola or Tagle.

  • Jon Altman

    John Paul II was 58 when he was elected in 1978. Benedict is only seven years younger than his patron.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com Gregmetzger

    For what it is worth, my thougts on some of the key figures at the Vatican as we move towards an election.


  • Bob Christie

    After the publication of Edelweiss Pirates Operation Einstein it’s no wonder he stepped down, he is a war criminal. Yes we all knew he was a member of the Hitler Youth, but the book points out what he did, and how a resistance fighter who was hiding in a neighbors house was turned in by the pope to the SS. Villagers said he was trying to impress his father a local police man. When the SS turned up, the resistance fighter shot himself, so he would not get taken alive, tortured and forced to inform on other resistance members. The Catholic Church has known for years of this, but now it has broken, the book was published just weeks ago despite attempts to stop it, within hours of it going live on Kindle the Pope stepped down and the Church frantically tried to put in a successor. The novel is written by Prince Williams favorite author Mark A. Cooper, although a work of fiction, Cooper writes many facts, he tells both sides, not just the atrocities carried out by the Nazi’s but what the Jews did to Germany in 1933 to upset Hitler. While interviewing locals he discovered much more than he bargained for, he was given an audience with the Pope for his side of the story, the Church tried to persuade Cooper to just archive the story.
    Te day before Cooper left Rome he was mugged and had his laptop stolen, he had however already sent a transcript to his agent in NY. The Church denied any connection and wished him no harm.