ON THE RETIREMENT OF THE HOLY FATHER, BENEDICT XVI
"Pope Benedict XVI was never destined to be a moderniser. His was a deeply spiritual but strongly conservative vision for the Catholic Church that looked back to past practice rather than forward to reform. Yet in deciding to step down before infirmity called his leadership into question, Pope Benedict has gone further in revolutionising the papacy than many expected. It is a courageous decision. Not since 1294 has a pope voluntarily left the Holy See. But Pope Benedict is right to try to avoid a repetition of the paralysis that set in during the final years of John Paul II’s pontificate, when his frail mental state affected his stewardship. Nonetheless Benedict’s legacy will be mixed. He failed to give the church the firm leadership it needed in the spiralling controversy over child abuse. Though some procedures against paedophile priests were tightened, the Vatican was slow to move against bishops who protected them. Despite his commitment to interfaith relations, Benedict also managed to offend both Muslims and Jews – the former with references to Islam as evil, and the latter by receiving excommunicated Holocaust deniers back into the church. Finally the scandal over Vatican finances raised questions over his organisational grip. Pope Benedict’s resignation offers the chance to address these and other issues. The risks of division within the church are greater than ever. Though traditionalists have rediscovered their voice, liberal Catholics are increasingly alienated. This divide is one that any new pope will have to address. Yet those who hope for a radical reformer are likely to be disappointed. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have ensured through their appointments a deeply conservative bias in the College of Cardinals. There will also be some who push for a candidate from the developing world. This would be historic. But geography should not be the deciding factor. The Catholic church needs a pope with enough youthfulness and energy – in effect a tough chief executive – to shepherd 1.2bn faithful in a world that is changing with great speed. If the conclave of cardinals makes this goal its priority, the church will end up with the leader it needs".Leader, "Papal precedent: Pope Benedict’s withdrawal offers a chance for change." The Financial Times. 11 February 2013, in www.ft.com.
"Has Pope Benedict shown himself to be up to the job? Over the long history of the Roman Catholic Church, there have been popes like Gregory the Great who were inspired administrators, and others who were not. Pope Benedict XVI had little experience in governance; he had served for only a short time as Archbishop of Munich and ran a small staff at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. From the start of his pontificate, he was clearly determined to delegate the more mundane duties of his ministry to others, in particular his prime minister, the Secretary of State. He wished to keep space in his life to study and to teach. In due course he wrote a series of outstanding Encyclicals, among them Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis; and a trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth. Until the late 20th century, popes rarely left the Vatican. It was Pope Paul VI who initiated pontifical pastoral visits to the four corners of the world. Shy and scholarly, Pope Benedict never looked comfortable in front of crowds; but given that he lacked the charisma of his predecessor, his public appearances were remarkably successful. His gentle manner and kindly smile proved beguiling. Intellectually, Pope Benedict has been acute and fearless: as Prefect of the CDF he had said that from a Catholic perspective the Anglican Communion was ‘not a church in the proper sense’; and as Pope, in a lecture in Regensburg, he quoted the observation of a Byzantine emperor that certain aspects of Islam were ‘evil and inhuman’. In his theological writing, Pope Benedict showed an exceptional clarity of thought and expression; and it is this lucidity that has undoubtedly brought him to realise that he should resign. The reasons he has given are that he is now too weak both in body and mind to properly exercise the Petrine ministry. Clearly, the gruelling pastoral visits abroad had become an ordeal for a man of his age, and he may well have been demoralised by the unending revelations of the clerical abuse of children and charges that he covered them up. He may feel that he has failed in the task he set himself of countering moral relativism in the developed world. The British MPs who listened politely to his address in Westminster Hall in 2010 last week voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage: among the majority were 47 Catholics. It has also been shown in a most humiliating way that Pope Benedict has not been in control of the governance of the Holy See. His butler, Paolo Gabriele, charged with passing the Pope’s confidential papers to a journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, told prosecutors that, from conversations he overheard as he served at table, it was clear that Pope Benedict was being kept in the dark by his closest advisers about various scandals in the Vatican. Gabriele, a true Italian, assumed this was the result of a conspiracy. It seems more likely that Pope Benedict’s minders, the handsome Monsignor Georg Gänswein and the Papal Secretary, Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, wanted to save him from distraction so that he could get on with his book on the infancy of Jesus. Mundane matters such as EU regulations on money-laundering could be left to the Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone. Pope Benedict, in his retirement, will able to look back at some considerable achievements during his eight years as pope; and we can look forward to further luminous writing. It was always what he did best".Piers Paul Read. "Benedict XVI in perspective: The triumphs and tribulations of Pope Benedict XVI." The Spectator. 16 February 2013, in www.spectator.co.uk The retirement of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI was an event of great sadness to both myself and to many millions and millions of Catholics around the world. Notwithstanding the banal slurs of our bien-pensant, secular and mostly ignorant at that, semi-intelligentsia as per the above referenced piece in the Financial Times, it is without a doubt the case that his Holiness did a yeoman's service while sitting in the august chair of Saint Peter. In agreeing to take up the burden of the becoming the Holy Father for the world's one billion plus Roman Catholics, the Holy Father, at his advanced age engaged in a labour of love. Indeed, His Holiness, Pope Benedict did something in the nature of a giving a gift of his self to the entire world. It was not in the least easy occupying the Chair of Saint Peter immediately after the pontificate of Pope John-Paul II. A man of many, many gifts, great personal charisma and charm being one of them. In contrast, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, is a shy, scholarly man, not made of the same mold as his predecessor. However, in a good many ways, his tenure as Holy Father, was crucial in righting and correctly certain unfortunate tendencies in the Church. A man of towering intellect, he endeavored to instruct the peoples of the earth about such things as the dangers of Islam in contemporary society. A warning which merely (and predictably) resulted in our usually ignorant, bien-pensant, semi-intelligentsia screaming nonsense about 'Islamophobia', without even having the intelligence of endeavoring to read and reflect upon the splendid words of the Holy Father, in his lecture at Regensburg in 2006. To sum up, future ages will reflect upon the retirement of His Holiness, in much the same way perhaps that people reflected upon the abdication of the Emperor Charles V in 1555:
"Of all the events and achievements that characterized the reign of Charles V, contemporaries were most impressed by the Emperor's decision to divide his possession and abdicate his many titles while still in his mid-fifties. His action had few precedents, and few rulers have chosen to follow his example. We do not know with certainty when Charles first began to think about abdication, but the decision itself seems to have been reached at some point in 1553....He wanted to be at peace and to prepare his soul for death in a location far from the struggles that had marked his career. Contemporaries saw in his retirement the humility and self-abnegation of a true Christian ruler 1."1. William S. Maltby. The Reign of Charles V. (2004).