Today’s news of the pending “resignation”of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is most distressing — not simply the notion that a pope would abdicate the throne, (though I seem to remember that St. Peter persevered to the bitter end on a Roman cross), but because of the practical ramifications of the Holy Father’s vision of the papacy as expressed in his surprise announcement in today’s consistory.
However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
I take great issue with the pope’s idea that a “modern” pontiff need any special strengths more aptly suited to the circumstances of today’s Church than were perhaps necessary for his predecessors. I feel certain that the Holy Ghost need not impart any extraordinary modernist graces to today’s uniquely challenged popes. It has been reported, for example, that one of the factors in the Holy Father’s decision may have been his doctor’s advice to refrain from any further overseas trips.
It seems certain that the Holy Father’s health is deteriorating — perhaps very quickly. I of course pray for the health and long life of the Successor of St. Peter. I can not pretend to know why the Holy Father does not wish to occupy the papal throne until his death — which despite his many and deep personal flaws, his immediate predecessor Pope John Paul II did humbly with admirable grace, despite his very public illness and decline.
The duty of the Bishop of Rome is to govern the Universal Church as the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, the God-Man Who emptied Himself — in extreme humiliation, openly before the whole world — to willingly suffer, become weak and ultimately, from a human perspective, powerless for the Redemption of His Church. Despite the egotistical and flamboyant escapades of his (rashly) blessed predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father does not need to jet around the world headlining outdoor mega-masses that derive more inspiration from Woodstock and Lalapalooza than the Cenacle. Nor does a pope need to receive mariachi bands, trapeze artists, and children’s choirs in front of a cheering crowd in the Paul VI Audience Hall each Wednesday. In fact, he need not be seen at all. For well on nineteen hundred years, the vast majority of Catholics hadn’t the vaguest idea of what their pope looked like in person — and it neither impeded them in their faith nor the supreme pontiff in the exercise of his most dread office.
The reigns of Paul VI and John Paul II have deeply perverted the mission of the papacy, and Pope Benedict XVI has finally and fully acquiesced to this modernist vision of the Petrine Office. Will his successor have the courage to break from this mould or will the papacy descend further into the cesspool of collegiality, Curial bureaucracy, pastoral doublespeak, pathetic impotence, and ultimate irrelevance?
Let us all pray that the College of Cardinals will be open to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and that the new pope will represent a return to the traditional role of the Successor of St. Peter in the Catholic Church.