On Popes and Retirement

On Popes and Retirement February 11, 2013

I doubt that there is anyone in this connected world who does not know by now that  Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has announced his retirement as of February 28, 2013.

Apparently, many of his closest aides were flummoxed and unprepared for this announcement.  And within moments, the cyberworld starts asking, “Is a new scandal concerning the Roman Catholic church starting to break?”  And, “How can the RC possibly function with two living Popes?” as though Ratzinger is not quite elderly and hardly physically robust, and has already said he will live out the rest of his life in an enclosed monastery devoting himself to prayer and meditation.

The sky is hardly falling at the thought of two living Popes, as much as the question seems to be throwing people for a loop.

Now, I will tell you I had little admiration for this man.  Personally, I saw him as a power-hungry institutional church man who knew little of a gracious and Holy God whose Son came to seek the lost and die a lonely death, and who really didn’t care that many, especially children, were severely injured by decisions he made in his high-level clerical career before he assumed that highest seat of honor and power in the RC world.

I also didn’t particularly care to hear from his lips that I serve a “deficient” religion.  Nonetheless, that was his opinion and there is certainly a grace in being honest.

But at this point, I say that he has done an honorable, if unprecedented, act.  He is simply no longer fit for the position, and has appeared to face this situation honestly and to leave before he becomes completely unable to do the job. Had he just waited it out until death took him, many vital decisions would be left in the hands of his minions who could easily say they are speaking for him, even if he never uttered another world.

It was an act of integrity. I trust this was not the first of his life, despite how I view his record.

With all this silly talk of “60 is the new 40” and “80 is the new 60,” people seem to want to forget that we are seriously mortal beings, and that we either get old and die, or we die before our time. Either way, we’re all going to die.

Not exactly new news, but the way most deny this inescapable reality often leaves me shocked.

The Pope is 85 years old.  There is no way his brain is fully sharp anymore.  He should NOT be making decisions that affect millions and millions of people.

Would that more people who are in life-time appointments would figure this out and learn to step down graciously, rather than insisting on keeping their seats of power long after their effectiveness has deserted them.

But it takes guts to be that self-aware, and frankly, it takes a brain relatively free of dementia to even begin to think this way.  That’s what does make this decision so remarkable–in order for him to make this decision, a good part of his mental acuity must still be present.

So, I say, “My hat is off to you, Pope Benedict.  May you find the fullness of the grace of God and blessing in your retirement and may the church universal find healing  where necessary from your tenure in that seat of power.”

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