Yesterday was Pope Benedict XVI last official day as pontiff. The resignation of the Pope, the first in some 600 years may very well change the nature of the office and how people view it. The feeling before was that popes pretty much die in office as patriarchs die at the head of their families. Now, new popes not up the job, as sadly Benedict XVI all but admitted by resigning, may very well do the same. Especially if they are in old age or declining health.
But maybe that’s not a bad thing. To often in recent times we’ve seen what happens when old men who were unwilling to give up the reigns have on institutions, whether its Penn State football or the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II’s sickness and decline may well have been personally moving but it was disastrous for the church as problems built up which simply were not addressed and proved too much for Benedict (who really didn’t want to be Pope and was looking forward to retirement at age 75 when he was chosen in 2005) to handle.
To his credit, Bear Bryant, even at youngish (for seniors anyway) 69, retired because he realized he just wasn’t at the top of his game anymore and it was hurting program on the field and in recruiting. Of course the person following Bryant, in this case Ray Perkins, had to bear the brunt of the problems left behind in the wake of Bryant’s decline and so did Benedict XVI after John Paul II and so will whoever the next pope will be. But Benedict’s sacrifice at least allows that successor time enough to tackle the church’s problem rather than waiting around until his death when the situation will only get worse.
I have no idea who the next pontiff will be. I have ideas who it should be but that’s besides the point. Whoever it is inherits an awesome task, perhaps even too much for one man to handle. John Paul II changed the papcy considerably in his time, something Benedict, at his advanced age, really wasn’t in a position to deal with. His resignation, as I said, will bring forth another change which hopefully the conclave will realize through God’s grace in picking the right person.