Since Benedict’s resignation we’ve been treated to almost two weeks of conspiracy mongering about the “real” reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down. It’s been everything from Piers Morgan’s ceaseless yammering about his “doubts” to theories about the pope hiding out in the Vatican in fear of an arrest warrant issued by “unknown European” entities concerning clergy sexual misconduct, and still lingering hope among some that this time it really was the butler who did it.
Yet, if scandal were the reason, Benedict could have resigned well before this. He was asked about the matter point blank in 2010 by Peter Seewald in Light of the World. Here was his response:
When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the difficult situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from the danger and say that someone else should do it.
Perhaps I am naïve but I think the reasons he resigned are actually the reasons he gave us. We live in a world where leaders, Christian or otherwise, are resistant to giving up the reins, where people tend to hold on to power much too long, and where everyone is jockeying for influence. Pope Benedict’s willingness to let go is a refreshing contrast to all this.
And as for the claim that Benedict may try to influence the conclave and the next pope, there is no more influential person in the Catholic Church than Benedict XVI. If maximizing his influence were his goal he wouldn’t have resigned.
I think his resignation can be boiled down to three things: magnanimity, humility, and prudence. I’d like to take a moment to consider each of these qualities in turn. (more…)