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Goodbye Pope Benedict

Early reactions to the pope’s resignation?  This just in from a traditionalist Catholic friend:

Perhaps I’m rushing to judgment and I don’t know all the facts, but my first
reaction is “coward”.

This is crazy. Presidents resign not popes.

I’m really pissed. It’s like a father abandoning his children to wild dogs.

This is how I first found out about the resignation, from this e-mail.

I’m still gathering facts, but it is shocking and disappointing. Maybe he’s sick and can’t handle it. I don’t know. I’ll post more later when I’ve learned more. I think his pontificate has been largely, but not entirely, a failure, though a failure in terms of what he ought to have done but didn’t. Sins of omission, I mean.

I was thrilled when he was elected, though by then I was already on my way out of the church. One big reason I chose the patron saint Benedict as an Orthodox was out of respect for him. I think he could have been one of the great modern popes. That was my hope for him. Maybe he didn’t have it in him. Maybe he always was too old.

I’ll have a more considered reaction later, and reserve the right to revise my opinion. It’s a sad day for the Roman church, I believe. God knows who is coming next. I just wanted to post this so you can comment.

UPDATE: Some further thoughts by me.

Would y’all please not assume that the sharp opinion by my trad friend is my own? It is not necessarily my own, any more than any comments I post on the comments threads are my own.

I think a big part of the disappointment conservatives and trads may have with Benedict comes from unrealistic expectations. During the JP2 pontificate, Cardinal Ratzinger was a rallying point, theologically and emotionally, for right-of-center Catholics who were frustrated with this or that thing JP2 did. When Ratzinger was named pope, it was a dream come true for the “Cafeteria Is Closed” crowd (and just to be clear, I was among them).

It didn’t work out that way. I do not follow Catholic affairs as closely as I once did, and have not for a while, so I can’t say to what extent this is a fault of Pope Benedict, and what was beyond his control. It does seem to me, though, that many of us — I include myself in this number — confuse Jesus with the pope, in this way: Jesus has the power to calm the waters during the storm, but the best any pope or patriarch can do is to keep the boat from capsizing in it. The currents of culture run much deeper than the peaks and troughs we see on the surface. For Benedict, and for all of us Christians in the West, the tide of faith continues to roll out. No pope can stop that.

It is also true that being a theoretician is not the same thing as being an executive. Ratzinger’s writings are brilliant. But brilliant men do not always have the gift of executive leadership.

Having had time to think a little about it, I’m grateful that the pope decided to step down before he became too sick to be the pope effectively. If John Paul had done the same, a lot of hardship for the church could have been avoided. Still, I worry about who will follow Benedict — but this transition had to happen eventually.

I really do think that its time for a pope from the Global South. Benedict is the last pope from the twilight of Christianity in Europe. May the next successor of Peter be from among peoples of the globe who still affirm with vigor Peter’s confession.

It will be extremely irritating to watch media commentators claiming in the days and weeks to come that the next pope has to liberalize to keep the Church from falling down. This is exactly wrong, not only theologically, but sociologically. It is true that Christianity is waning in the West — but the liberal churches are declining faster than the conservative ones.

Finally, with the great exception of the Maciel matter, I am deeply disappointed in Benedict’s handling of the abuse crisis. During the final years of the JP2 papacy, I was reliably informed that Benedict knew to a great degree what was happening in the Church — remember, his office was the point of contact on the scandal between the Vatican and the US dioceses — but was prevented from acting decisively because of John Paul. This view, I think, was somewhat vindicated by the new pope moving against Maciel. Still, it is troubling to think that Pope Benedict found not one sitting bishop worth deposing over his behavior in the scandal — not even Cardinal Brady of Ireland, or Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, both of whom will be able to vote for Benedict’s successor.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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