Power that is Passed On: thoughts on a Papal Resignation

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).

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An Anglican/Episcopal priest, bibliophile, dog owner, and Montanan

2 thoughts on “Power that is Passed On: thoughts on a Papal Resignation

  1. It speaks volumes about this pope that, in my opinion anyway, the best thing that can be said about him is the way he left.

    His reign, and his tenure in the CDF before that spoke of a man who sought to transform the post Vatican II Catholic Church into a body regulated by thought police and kept together by paranoia.

    While his predecessor bears no small portion of the blame I suspect history will lay thei bulk of the blame for the Child Abuse scandal at his doorstep. This may well be just as there is a fair amount of evidence in his direct complicity when he was bishop of Munich.

    All that being said I think his decision to leave was extremely refreshing. I suspect he spent several years watching his predecessor in no physical position to lead the worlds largest religious body and didn’t want to continue the tradition when a more able person could do a better job. The first one in 600 years but I bet he hopes it starts a new trend. I suspect theologically he may regret it though as leadership that transitions younger means a younger average age of leader and a greater likelihood of one being appointed that thinks that this church might want to actually live in the 21st century.

  2. Glenn,
    Part of my goal in writing this was to set aside the list of things I too can dredge up about BXVI. In part because I believe that it is too easy to blame him for too much (ie the child abuse scandal, which a thorough history should show began long before either he or JPII had much power). And also because, as with every other extremely public figure, I am sure that there are many stories of people who have had their lives positively impacted by BXVI.
    I have neither the time, interest, nor the energy to try to balance those things out here.
    What I did want to comment on is that this wasn’t easy and we should (as the world descends into Papal Watch 2013) try to remember that.

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