The Pope Till Death Do Us Part, Sometimes

Popes Should Resign More Often, declares fellow Patheos blogger Marc Barnes. Quoting Benedict’s explanation of his resignation, he argues that he

didn’t resign for personal reasons that may or not be repeated. He resigned for reasons that created a norm, an example to follow, an expectation — a universally applicable rule, even.

. . . Benedict’s resignation put things in their proper order. The Bishop of Rome is not a dead symbol, but a living reality, an apostle who actively leads, guides and admonishes the faithful. If he is too old to do this, it is not enough to hang on to the office of the papacy. Far better to lead than to be “the leader.” . . .

The Pope is a representative of Christ on Earth, but he is also a man, and that’s the beauty of the thing.

I agree with everything he says, with one qualification: It would also be a good thing, a thing in the proper order, for a pope to continue as pope till he died, even if he suffers years of declining ability. Marc’s argument implies that the pope ought to step down when he finds himself in the same situation as did Benedict.

A pope can be pope in different ways. Benedict explained that he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do, and another pope may believe God wants him to stay. His public endurance of suffering might be a needed witness, or the Church might need a break from an active and public pope, or the tendency for resignation to become expected should be denied, or the fact that the papacy is a calling and not simply a job should be made dramatically clear. Or other reasons I haven’t thought of.

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