I woke up this morning, as I usually do, to NPR and the news. This morning I wasn’t completely sure a little time travel hadn’t been involved. The Pope resigning? But a quick check of the date (not April 1st) and other news sources (yep, the same thing) indicated, if not something completely new under the sun, then a return of something old and uncommon in a potentially new way.
I am no great fan of Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t think that will shock many people. Even less do I suspect that BXVI or much of the Roman Catholic hierarchy care about my opinion.
After today (already too full of discussion of potential papal intrigue), I have found a new measure of respect for BXVI.
After my mind started working, I thought of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. This prize is awarded to African heads of state or government who rule well and who democratically transfer power to their successor. I read about this prize when it was first announced and some of the theory behind it is that there is no retirement plan for African Heads of State. Once you hand over leadership of Bostwana you don’t get a cushy adjunct Professor position at Georgetown and a book deal. So, instead you don’t hand power over and things spiral down. Mo Ibrahim decided to help this problem.
In a world where our bodies can outlast our minds, much less our ability or desire to attempt a demanding job like Pope;* in a world where power and having power are important; I found new respect for BXVI today.
Now even more than before people and history are watching. How this is accomplished, what he does next, this things will be analyzed and repeated.
But whether this is deemed a success or failure in 50, 500, and 5,000 years, I hope we will also remember the courage it took to attempt. To change the precedent. To imagine a future where power is passed on.**
*Speculation about the details of BXVI’s health are both his to release or not and thus both an invasion of privacy and a waste of our time.
**Yes, I know that speculation has already started about how much BXVI may be able to shape the process of electing his successor. I would remind those who are stuck there that (1) every Pope has done that to some degree (2) such is the nature of hierarchical structures. And further suggest (3) back off the cynicism just a little (a tiny bit).