How Resignation Was the Summit of the Popes' Life Work; Benedict XVI Prepared Leaders to Engage the World

Article excerpt


Pope Benedict's resignation has shocked the world. Who knew that a conservative 85-year old could surprise us?

In many ways, his decision is a culmination of the years of work to better prepare the leadership of the Catholic Church to engage with a global world. Karol Wojytla was only 58 when he was elected as John Paul II. Possessing a strong intellectual background, he spoke at least 25 languages and was fluent in eight, had communication skills and knew global politics. During his pontificate and more so under the pontificate of Benedict XVI, priests named as bishops were younger than before.

The world has changed significantly, and the Church needs leaders who are more agile, supported by the natural endowments of relative youth. In the past, it might have made sense to nominate an older person who had a wealth of experience. Now, we need leaders who have experience and the ability to engage in a world that changes minute by minute.

Many Catholics see the role of the pope as simply a spiritual father who puts out documents now and then, and can be counted on for a blessing and a photo op with the occasional baby.

Yet the pope is responsible for the leadership of the Catholic Church and all the politics that comes with that. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with more nations than any other government and is actively leading Catholics around the world. Canon Law stipulates that the pope must be concerned for every soul in the world. Granted, there are plenty of people who would disabuse the pope of his concern for them. Nevertheless, he does have this responsibility.

It wasn't until I went to study and live in Rome that I began to better understand the vast responsibilities and pressures of the papacy. When I worked at the Vatican newspaper, I was even more stunned. What John Paul II did every day would have been beyond the abilities of most retirees, not to mention much younger individuals.

On the day that Pope Benedict announced his resignation, I was on a flight from Rome to the United States after speaking at a plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Culture, made up of cardinals, bishops and lay experts. Despite the immense responsibilities that most members of the hierarchy already have, they made themselves available to engage actively in the sessions. Again, the responsibilities of their offices are immense, something that even naysayers should admit since they are quick to fault them in the cases of failure and neglect. …