The announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation on 28th February has taken the world, especially Catholic faithful aback, but the pontiff’s decision to throw in the towel seems the finest and timely. Although the reason behind the abrupt exit has been pegged on age, more is added to that. From pressure of the child abuse or sex scandal to the ordination of gay priests, to the introduction of female priests and the need for modernisation within the church itself are just a scratch on the surface of the other reasons. All these problems have actually tied the hands of the pope from judiciously executing the powers bestowed on him as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. If age is the top on his list, this is simple. At 85, it is evident that his physical strength and charisma to preach the gospel to his millions of worshipers worldwide are fading out. Being a man of God most Catholic worshipers would have rather preferred him to carry on until he drops death while in service.
Putting the excuse of age aside, for critics of the Pope Benedict XVI, the writings of his resignation had been clear and clean on the walls for ages. The child abuse scandal had been a thorn in the flesh for the pope, especially as it was alleged that he was the head of the diocese at the time when the abuse took place. Although he fell shot to take the blame admitting that he was aware of the mishap within his diocese, he did at least accept that the scandal had affected the church and called for order. As if that wasn’t enough then came the controversy over the ordination of gay priests that created division in the church. Then it was the debate of officiating gay marriages in the church.
In an article, titled, Christianity at bay, by-lined by Edward Lucas and published in The Economist, The World in 2013, it was predicted that churches both Catholic and Anglican, would lose ground to the secularists. In both Europe and the Middle Eastern homeland of Christendom this year was going to be bleak for the mainstream churches that have carried the Christian message for centuries. That is to say declines would accelerate and problems would intensify. Before focusing on the Catholic Church and the pope, Lucas stresses that by the end of 2013 the churches would have lost the battle over gay marriage, with their reputation for tolerance a casualty.
As for the Catholic Church, the article predicts that Pope Benedict’s lot look little better. Little did Lucas could envisage that the situation of the pontiff was far from better! The number of priests and parishioners across Europe and North American has continued to nose dive. This decline has put lots of pressure on priests that are supposed to have gone on retirement to carry on work even when they barely can stand for a whole mass. In some churches in Scotland, there are no priests at all, while worshippers have to rely on visiting priests to preside over masses or conduct marriages as well as funerals.
More pressure, need for reforms
With modernisation come the needs for more reforms. As a way to curtail the declining numbers of people to preach the gospel and win as well as keep more Christian faith alive, they have been debate on whether to bring in women priests, and to accept the ordination of married men. All these proposals have not been better off to accepting gay priests as they all are against the canons of Catholicism. With the sex scandal not to be swept under the carpet, the pontiff was going to have more nightmares and as other cases of sexual abuses were expected to emerge as more investigations have been going on. As the turbulence has been far from subsiding it was obvious that the intelligent but ageing and ailing pontiff was going to have a stormy sail through this year. However, no one even his close aides would have guessed that the problems were going to be too much for him to deal with.
Taking a close look at the pope’s resignation declaration, the points of deteriorating health and the inability to probably serve stood out. However when the declaration talks of the need of both the strength of the mind and that of the body to properly serve the ministry, it seems the mind might have been troubled not only by some of the problems mentioned above but others still to be made public. Whatever these other problems are, it is not the concern now, but who is to inherit them.
The problems are already too many, and many challenges will await the new Holy Father as he starts his papacy. Nevertheless, the new pope will need to work relentlessly to clean the house and keep the faith of faithful burning with the desire to find solace in the Lord Jesus Christ, especially at this tempting era. That is an epoch when the churches are becoming almost empty, but for a handful of old worshipers; and an era when the Catholic catechism is constantly coming under treat from secularists. Whether the new head of the Vatican finally comes from South America with the highest number of faithful or from Africa, where its dynamic and charismatic priests are highly sought after in Europe to fill more vacancies, unity most be the first step to finding solutions to all the pile of files at the papal office.