On Monday, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI officially confirmed that he would resign his position as leader of the Catholic Church. He cited advanced age as the reason, and in a speech given to his Cardinals on Sunday he said that to deal with the challenges facing the Church today “both strength of mind and body are necessary.”(abc) This decision to step down is very unusual for any Pope, as all in recent history have stayed in their position until death or near death. His departure has already stirred a great deal of both positive and negative reaction.
Many international leaders have taken this opportunity to express their approval and respect for the Pope and his decision. British Labour Leader Ed Miliband described the decision as “a brave one,” while expressing gratitude for His Holiness’ visit to the UK. Germany’s Angela Merkel expressed great respect for the Pope and said he “is and remains one of the most important religious thinkers of our time.”(UK) There was also criticism of the Pope and his time in power expressed as well.
In a blog post for The National Secular Society many of the criticism of the Pope were directly addressed. The onslaught of cases regarding the sexual abuse of children and how the church leaders, both current and former, have handled them has created a great deal of animosity towards the Catholic Church. Also, the Pope’s stance against same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception has greatly diminished support for his leadership. It has now been shown through polls and political change that most Catholics throughout the world now support these measures, but not Benedict.
There are many concerns and a great frustration with the dwindling number of new and still practicing Catholics worldwide. Whether the Pope’s reign will be blamed for this, or if this is symptomatic of something much larger, will no doubt affect the way people will view the legacy of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.