Ross Douthat comes out of new daddy duty — he and his wife had their second child recently, so, mazel tov! — to share his opinion of the pope’s resignation, and says something wise and interesting that nobody else has yet. He says Benedict’s decision was probably for the best, but has a very serious caveat. Excerpt:
Catholicism’s resilience has always depended both on the power of the pontiff to sustain unity and safeguard doctrine and on the power of the Catholic faith itself to survive leaders who are wrongheaded, incompetent, senile or corrupt. (There’s a reason why relatively few popes have been canonized, and why Catholics wear their faith’s ability to recover from the Borgias as a badge of honor.) And if papal resignations became commonplace and expected, I worry that they might end up burdening the papacy with a weight it cannot bear — encouraging Catholics to lay far too much stress on the human qualities of the see of Peter’s occupant, and encouraging the world at large to judge the faith’s truth claims on whether the Vatican seemed to be running smoothly, and whether the pope’s approval ratings were robust.
So I understand why this pope made the choice he did, and I have some optimism for what his abdication means for the immediate future of the church. But I hope we have to wait another five hundred years, at least, for it to happen again.