In roughly 600 years, no Pope has decidedly "resigned" from head of the Catholic Church. That means this is the first time in the history of the modern West that it happened, and it sets a precedent. For a conservative such as Pope Benedict XVI, this is a surprisingly "modern" move. In the business world and in most of life, people retire. CEO's and janitors alike. But the Pope? Here is part of Benedict's official statement on the matter from Religion News Service:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
600 years ago, Pope Celestine V issued a decree which allowed a Pope to resign. Like Benedict, he too was elderly reluctant at 80 years old.
While citing his health, is it also possible that the increasing hostility towards Benedict's conservatism, as well as his controversial background with the sex scandal, are part-in-parcel with the retirement? Perhaps it is time, after all, for a progressive Papacy to fill Peter's chair.
Regardless of where my readers may stand on Benedict's papacy, I do think the enormous cry for change and reform in the Catholic church sets a precedent for Benedict's early retirement. From Liberation Theology to women in the priesthood, we've seen a lot of new developments in the Catholic church.
I am no theologian, but all the signs are clear: the people of the world, religious people, Christian people, are ready for change.
Over at the Aggie Catholic blog, we learn that Benedict's retirement may be a long-time-coming. Apparently, in 2009, Pope Benedict stopped by the tomb of Celestine V:
He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!
"These actions were probably more than pious acts," they also write. I'm inclined to believe them.
What are your thoughts for the future of the Catholic Church? Is this a good, however unexpected, turn for a religion in the midst of upheaval and controversy?