Pope Benedict Has Changed the Church, and Other Religious Institutions, Forever

Pope Benedict is preaching a great sermon: when you've given your all, there is no shame in setting your burden down.

February 11, 2013. Now it’s harder to say Joseph Ratzinger was a hide-bound traditionalist.

There is nothing traditional about spurning two millennia of custom that requires the successor of Peter to hang around the throne until God calls him home.

And while Pope Benedict’s announced abdication is not unprecedented – Pope Gregory XII quit under intense political pressure in 1415—his departure may be the first prompted by ordinary human frailty.

Facing one’s encroaching infirmities requires courage and wisdom that is not often seen in monarchs, potentates, or popes. Benedict’s decision to lay down the Petrine miter while he still lives may constitute his greatest and most radical contribution to the church.

He has, in a sense, liberated all his successors and other powerful leaders from the excruciating bondage to duty that compels them to endure weakness and pain until their last agonized breath.

He has, indeed, born testimony to a truth many popes, bishops, pastors, rabbis, and imams cannot face: that no one is irreplaceable; that the world will go on without you; that God will find other people and other means to get the job done.

In that sense, Benedict XVI has changed the church and other religious institutions forever. We wouldn’t have expected that kind of change from Joseph Ratzinger, but we will always be in his debt.

For many Protestant ecumenists, including me, Benedict’s extreme act may prompt a reappraisal of his personality and reign.

He is not the soul of ecumenical or interfaith cooperation. He referred to the Roman Catholic Church as the “true” church and declared all others as “deficient.”

Yet he welcomed Orthodox patriarchs, rabbis, and ecumenical activists to the Vatican. Early in his reign, he hosted former World Council of Churches General Secretary Sam Kobia, a Kenyan Methodist, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company. The resulting photograph prompted Protestants to repeat an old joke: “Who’s the guy up there with Sam?” It was a sign that Benedict can be, if not entirely open minded, then disarmingly polite.

Even so, I must confess, there are things about His Holiness that chill the cockles of my Baptist heart.

He has turned his back on the ordination of women as priests, despite the experience of Protestant churches that women match and often exceed the skills of men as pastors, bishops and primates. And despite the fact that the Holy Spirit continues to call women to pastoral ministries within the Catholic Church and elsewhere.

He supported a church investigation of nuns for straying from church doctrine and seemed indulgent of the ancient old boy network that gives the ultimate power to define doctrine entirely to men.

Too, Benedict has carried the burden of presiding over a church contaminated by the “filth” – his word – of clergy sexual abuse of children. He has apologized to victims for the abuse they suffered, but carries in his heart the memory that as a cardinal, he, too, protected an abusive priest.

No one knows better than Benedict XVI what St. Paul said about sin: everyone does it. Everyone falls short of God’s glory.

To his critics, Benedict is a sinner like everyone else, working out his salvation in fear and trembling.

But, like all us sinners, he is also capable of great grace and great wisdom.

And grace is what shines through so brightly in his announcement today.

When your conscience says you have given all you can to the cause to which God has called you, there is no shame in setting your burden down.

May God bless the Pope for sharing that liberating insight with the rest of us sinners.

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Theresa Flora February 12, 2013 at 12:47 AM
As though it was Benedict's idea not to ordain women. Ordination of men is an unbroken tradition that goes back to Christ. You need to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imitate the Protestants? Yeah, what could go wrong?
Issy February 12, 2013 at 02:00 AM
This Pope should be remembered for his lack of compassion and guilt over the cover-up of the child sex abuses. Including allowing Cardinal Law to flee to Rome and hide from the victims of those he enabled. Shameful, I wonder if that is a tradition the next Pope will continue.
joshua tanner February 12, 2013 at 02:43 AM
There is more sexual abuse in public schools than every existed in Church but all the people who enjoy blaming the Pope ignore all that "Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft looked into the problem, and the first thing that came to her mind when Education Week reported on the study were the daily headlines about the Catholic Church. "[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem?" she said. "The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests." Has Media Ignored Sex Abuse In School? http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-215_162-1933687.html
Issy February 12, 2013 at 03:00 AM
The study is completely flawed because it relies on the enablers (the Catholic Church) to provide the data for its own crimes, which undoubtedly they were under reporting. When a teacher in a school is found to commit sexual abuse they are prosecuted, not moved to another school and have the facts covered up. It is not necessarily the amount of sexual abuse, it is the arrogant and immoral way it was covered up by the Church (and still is), from an institution that dictates moral judgement.on others. Shameful
joshua tanner February 12, 2013 at 03:31 AM
"The federal report said 422,000 California public-school students would be victims before graduation — a number that dwarfs the state's entire Catholic-school enrollment of 143,000." Even if the Church was hiding cases the schools are still way ahead. Studies of NY schools showed the same thing. Everybody looks the other way. The Churches do it. The schools do it. The colleges do it. Now we have the Boy Scouts being forced to accept homosexual leaders dwspite having having a homosexual abuse scandal similar to the church. Nobody really cares about the kids.
Mike February 12, 2013 at 04:26 AM
issy is a hater Joshua so dont bother the fact that the patch allows its post to remain says more about the patch and its anti-Catholic bigotry than issy's hate. a hater is always going to hate.
Ann Fanizzi February 12, 2013 at 12:24 PM
The Catholic Church was misled by the conceit of the psychological community that pedophilia was cureable and that psychological talk sessions would do it. This community still is conceited and one of the reasons that I am very skeptical of their ability to diagnose and treat mental illness without recurrence and on-going supervision.
Issy February 12, 2013 at 12:53 PM
This is not about hate and it is dishonest of you to say that. When you claim anti-Catholic bigotry you choose to marginalize the abuse of children. As a victim of abduction/abuse myself, this is about identifying with the innocent not the perpetrators. I would urge everyone to watch "Mea Maxima Culpa" to get an inside account of what happened.and the Vatican's part in the cover up. It is not pretty. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uk62WDGrvs
Ann Fanizzi February 12, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Figures as to priest molestation - Number of Priests Accused of Sexually Abusing ChildrenAs Reported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with Numbers of Persons Alleging Abuse Compiled by BishopAccountability.org From reports commissioned by the USCCB Updated April 10, 2012 As of April 10, 2012, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has counted 6,115 clerics "not implausibly" and "credibly" accused in 1950-2011 of sexually abusing minors. The USCCB total omits allegations made in 2003. As of April 10, 2012, the USCCB has counted 16,324 individuals who have alleged that they were abused as minors by priests. The USCCB total omits persons who made allegations in 2003.
LifeLongResident February 12, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Mike, The Patch is anti-catholic? That is a fairly hateful statement itself. I would be interested in how you came to that conclusion.
Ann Fanizzi February 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM
If you are responding to a comment, could you please indicate to whom you are responding. Thanks.
John Gruber February 13, 2013 at 05:48 PM
Since when are abusers limited to homosexuals? Even more so, since when do we assume all homosexuals in Boy Scouts abuse children? Female teachers have had relations with male students, so should schools still alllow straight women to teach boys?
Anne Iacobuzio February 13, 2013 at 05:49 PM
I would never comment on a Protestant Church, never mind write a blog or an opinion piece about a religion I have no ties to. I find this article to be in extremely bad taste.
Ann Fanizzi February 14, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Anne - this is certainly a very sensitive and uncomfortable topic and religious leaders are held to a higher standard because they have vowed to keep that standard. When they don't they are open to severe criticism. Jesus was very critical of the hypocritical religious leaders of his time - made no bones about it.
Robert Guttman February 16, 2013 at 02:27 PM
"Now it’s harder to say Joseph Ratzinger was a hide-bound traditionalist." All you have to do is take one look at the Pope and the Cardinals in the Vatican to realize who is in charge of the Catholic Church: a bunch of elderly, and almost exclusively white, men. Not one woman in the bunch. Oh, that's right, I almost forgot, the Catholic Church is a Medieval institution, that still doesn't permit women to have any power whatsoever. If they ever have the guts to elect a Pope who changes that sorry state of affairs, perhaps the statement quoted above may actually have some validity.


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