Pope John Paul II, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease and other physical maladies throughout the last decade of his life, made the rather pointed comment the other day: " John Paul stayed to the end of his life as he believed you cannot come down from the cross." The snark could not have been more thinly veiled. Ouch.
Benedict XVI declared in his shocking resignation that he no longer had the mental and physical strength to run the Church through a period of major crisis.The exact wording began,"Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St Peter ..." I am having a problem with the word renounce. It's use is curious to me, because the words 'relinquish',abdicate,or the phrase ' step-down' Among its many definitions there is there is also the phrase, " ...to give back or return", and the words 'repudiate' and 'disown'. Perhaps this was a poor translation, but I find the use of 'renounce' particularly nagging, as if there is something that was left unsaid.As I said, I was raised Catholic: many members of my family remain so to this day. My entire childhood was rooted in Catholicism in the Church under Pope John XXII and Paul VI. My brother-a Monsignor-was employed at the Vatican News Service under John Paul II. I know a lot of snarky Catholic jokes...a lot. The first thought that crossed my mind after reading the news that Benedict XVI was resigning was that maybe he figured he'd get out before one of his colleagues poisoned him or that someone found his little black book full of altar boy's names. Not a very charitable attitude, but I believe the irony of it isn't lost on fellow former Catholics. Although I left Catholicism (or it left me) years ago, I still credit it with giving me a love for ritual: Credit where credit is due.
There are some immediate problems with the existence of an ex-Pope because there is so little precedence. The last one, Gregory XII, abdicated the Papacy over 600 years ago during the Great Western Schism, so that the Council Of Constance ( a group of bishops) could elect someone else who could satisfactorily serve the Church in the eyes of all the various warring factions involved at the time.[http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum16.htm] I personally find this to be a humble gesture on his part, and which also more than likely kept him from having his head looped off by one of his challengers. Several hundred years prior to that, Celestine V, who was introverted to the point of being known as a hermit, and only accepted after much prodding from his colleagues, gave it all up after only 90 days to wander in Nature. Maybe he heard the Call of the Goddess? At any rate, his successor, Boniface VIII, had him hunted down, arrested and jailed before he could leave the country-just so they wouldn't be the prickly problem of a former Pope and a current one, as was the case with Benedict IX and his godfather Gregory VI. Benedict, at the tender age of 20, was known to be a bit of a gigolo, and was bribed off the Throne of Peter by Gregory VI. During his more, shall we say, fallow periods, Benedict IX twice attempted to reclaim the Papal Tiara. This skullduggery ended with the expulsion of both Benedict IX and GregoryVI from the Vatican.
The exit of Benedict XVI is not quite so dramatic. The Pontiff cited age and infirmity as his main reasons for exchanging Peter's Chair for an easy chair. I was discussing with my friend Mac just last night that I believed that Benedict's ring should be reclaimed by the College of Cardinals, for it is the Ring of the Fisherman alone, that is used to seal encyclicals and officially authenticate correspondence of the Pope, and which exemplifies the power of the Vicar of Christ. This morning it was announced that all symbols of the Papacy under Benedict XVI would be duly destroyed. It is even rumored that when he returns to a private life of contemplation and study, the former Pope might even take another religious name, although he could possibly be given the title of Bishop Emeritus of Rome and retain the spoken courtesy of " Your Holiness" (following the manner of former Presidents).
I will confess that I am unabashedly overjoyed to see Benedict XVI stepping down as the chief Shepard of the Roman Catholic Church. I find his politics and theology abhorrent in light of his views on just about everything, but especially sexual abuse and subjugation of women (and their bodies). Other than that, as a non-Catholic, I don't feel I should be commenting on the collegiate and theological business of a religious body that is not my own... particularly because we Pagans seem to take such umbrage when others outside our traditions comment about us (abet, usually negatively). I honestly don't care who gets the brass ring this time around, I don't really care if the new Pontiff is a European, Latino or Asian, or if he comes from a Third-World country or not. I do hope, as a world citizen, that the powers-that-be are lead to choose a new Pope who exemplifies all the positive that could be accomplished by being the chief minister of the largest Christian tradition in the world; that he is a man of authentic understanding and compassion who embodies the mythos of Jesus and not the mindset of a corrupt hierarchy.