Today’s the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement. I will down a Jager in honor of the occasion, even though we still don’t fully know why he did what he did. Mathew Schmalz credits the pope emeritus with paving the way for his successor’s humility:
It’s easy to see how Pope Francis’s simplicity stands in stark contrast and how this would be a welcome change for some. And Francis has emphasized different themes — the church is more of a community and less of a hierarchical institution; Jesus is less of a priest and more of an itinerant preacher close to the poor.
But Benedict XVI did one thing that allowed everything new that we’ve seen from Pope Francis: he resigned the papacy. Benedict believed the papacy, “the Petrine ministry,” was important, but that he himself was dispensable: when the time came, Benedict had no problem letting go. As he promised, Benedict XVI has remained quiet and out of public view. Benedict’s acts of humility, more than anything else, have given Francis the opportunity to be pope in a new kind of way.
But Marcus O’Donnell points out that Francis still has Benedict’s decades of reactionary appointments to overcome:
The main factor mitigating against change in the church is that nearly all its current Bishops were appointed during the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who, between them, had 35 years to install like-minded conservative leaders throughout the church. Virtually no progressive leaders from the Vatican II reform generation remain. While there are still small pockets of progressive resistance it has been hard to sustain against an active Vatican campaign to stamp out dissent.
And Dennis Coday reminds readers of the chaotic state in which he left the church:
Remember what we, in the U.S. Catholic church, had been through: an “apostolic visitation” of congregations of American women religious; a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the appointment of overlords to help them “reform.” Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois had been excommunicated because he supported women’s ordination. Long established and trusted scholars, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley and St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, had been censured. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for child protection had warned the bishops that complacency threatened the continuing implementation of their policies and guidelines meant to keep children safe. The U.S. bishops seemed to be doing their best to scuttle health care reform over — of all things — artificial contraception; their campaign for religious freedom seemed petty and partisan. A clunky, ideologically driven translation of the Mass prayers had been thrust upon us.
In an interview with Reuters, Archbishop Georg Gänswein says Benedict’s conscience is clear:
Pope Benedict is at peace with himself and I think he is even at peace with the Lord. He is well but certainly he is a person who carries the weight of his years. So, he is a man who is physically old but his spirit is very vivacious and very clear. … I am certain, indeed convinced, that history will offer a judgment that will be different than what one often read in the last years of his pontificate because the sources are clear and clarity springs from them.
Rocco Palmo reports on what Benedict has been up to in the past year:
Since stepping away, the now Pope-emeritus has broadly held to his plan for his retirement to be spent “hidden from the world.” From his base in the former Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict – who’ll be 87 in April – is said to spend his days with the books he once called his “old friends,” still engaged in theological study, though he’s not expected to write again. A midday walk in the Vatican Gardens is often followed by time at the piano. Company does come, but the invitations tend to be limited to a relatively tight circle of longtime allies, who can be sufficiently trusted to not leak what he says.
The mail is another story, however. A lengthy letter Benedict wrote an atheist author last November was published in La Repubblica with his consent, and in yesterday’s edition of the leftist daily, it emerged that Ratzinger had resumed correspondence with Hans Kung, his colleague-turned-rival of half a century, who he famously hosted for dinner months after his election.
(Photo: By Stefan Wermuth/WPA Pool/Getty Images)