Whether or not it was a misunderstanding, the notion is now officially out there, thanks to the speedy internet age. When might a pope resign?
It would not be a novel career move; popes have resigned. Four of them, I think, out of two-hundred sixty-some. Most notable might be Saint Clement I, Peter’s third successor.
I’ve read the artificial theology arguing against the possibility of a retired pope retaining a following and detracting from the leadership of the successor. I’m not impressed with this line of thought: we don’t live in the Age of Avignon. An ailing pope will leave any number of papabile in the curia usurping authority. We saw it in the last papacy with guys like Cardinal Arinze doing some globetrotting to get his face and voice out there.
A pope resigns and there might–only might–be some confusion. An infirm or dysfunctional pope stays on and multiply the confusion by the number of self-important figures near the top of the hierarchy. Pick your poison: possible a second pope or definitely a handful of little popes.
Like it or not, the thought is now out there, and it can’t help but compromise Pope Benedict’s authority further. The supercurialists will feel emboldened. And why not? The Bishop of Rome is willing to concede many points to conservatives for the sake of unity. And if the SSPX gets prime attention, how much more will a “loyal” curialist receive?
The detractor list will dismiss more readily anything that comes from B16; they’ll figure they can wait him out. Instead of a focus on what the pope does well, theology, we’ll get people in the Church and out looking to his errors. The Church will do its best to repair relations with Jews, and the unexcommunication will fade as news, not unlike the mutual 1965 effort by pope and Orthodox patriarch. But I think a shadow has crossed this papacy, and it goes to something systemic, something deeper than alienation of Jewish people. There are now questions about the pope’s leadership ability, and even his stomach for the hard choices he faces with an upstart curia. There is not a whole lot of evidence that things are going to improve, at least until another pope is elected. Like it or not, we may have come to the downslope of Pope Benedict’s time to serve. Whether that slide last a few months or a year or two until a resignation, or a fairly healthy octagenarian hangs on for a decade, we seem to be in another holding pattern. And when the Church is faced with challenges within and without, now may not be the best time for a theological caretaker.
What do you think?