Citing deteriorating health, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign as head of the Roman Catholic Church in mid-February.
Everyone thought he was kidding around, but he went ahead and stepped down Thursday evening. Somebody forgot to tell Benedict that as pope, you’re supposed to die in office. Out of 265 popes (including the apostle Peter, according to Catholic doctrine), only 10 have stepped down. The most recent pope to have resigned before Benedict was Gregory XII in 1415 to end the Western Schism and reunite the Church, which is a bit more admirable.
That was 598 years ago, mind you. And now the Catholic Church has cultivated an unfortunate reputation as filled with little boy-lovers. Seeing as the pontiff has traditionally died in office, it’s doubtful the world will accept health concerns as a valid reason for stepping down. No matter how poor Benedict’s health, he and his church will be copping a lot of flak for this move from angry, silly Protestants who’ve been on their high horse since the Reformation.
Though it’s odd to see him go, Benedict was no John Paul II. Most of the world liked that fellow. I mean, Benedict was not the one who inspired my Catholic schoolmate to invent a scenario involving the Pope and St. Michael fighting demons at the scene of the Scopes Monkey Trial.
What happens now? Soon, a “conclave” will begin. The College of Cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel and, after some solemn promises to God and Jesus, each cardinal will write the name of a candidate on a ballot, which will be collected and tallied. If there is no clear winner, the process is repeated.
The new pope will probably be an Asian woman in order to increase demographic appeal. Just kidding. The pope actually must be a cardinal who wins two-thirds plus one of the votes. Meanwhile, Benedict, also known as Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, will move to the papal summer home and later to a Vatican monastery. He will reportedly spend the rest of his life in meditation and prayer.
A new pope is expected to be selected before Easter. The Catholic Church has the opportunity to redeem itself from sexual scandal and add a new dynamism to a world increasingly willing to leave it behind. Let’s just hope the next pope is a new John Paul II, rather than an Innocent IV, or Alexander VI, or John XII…or Urban II…or…
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