Window Open For Change
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 17:02
Out of his window, out of the Vatican goes Pope Benedict XVI.
On Monday, February 11, the infamously unpredictable pope announced his resignation to the Catholic worldwide community and beyond. As of February 28, he will officially be the first Catholic pope to leave his post in the last six centuries.
“Before God,” daringly uttered Pope Benedict XVI on Monday morning, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise.”
Even though he spoke the statement in one language – Latin – to a gathering of cardinals in the Vatican, observers around the world translated this declaration in numerous ways. Although he gave a generous two-week notice, the one billion Roman Catholics around the world underwent a period of critical shock with the full awareness that an abrupt transition for the Catholic Church will soon occur.
The Catholic institution, its worldwide faithful followers, and critical observers are not accustomed to abruptness. The simple principle of a pope “quitting his job” is perceived as obscene. Because of the holy connotation so tightly connected to the role, we forget that the papal position is essentially just another job. Similar to a CEO position of a business, leadership transition inevitably will happen. However, in regard to the role of the pope, the world seems to have unconsciously dismissed the possibility that the shift can still occur without a pope dying. As an instinctive reaction to the unexpected nature of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, it is easy to become suspicious of his motive, curiously questioning the plausible magnitude of scandals that he may be concealing.
Yet, Catholicism’s extreme discomfort with change extends further than Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Whether the issues pertain to the sanctity of life, women’s rights, homosexuality, or divorce, forceful resistance from the Church always seem to accompany the matters. The criticism of the Pope’s unconventional departure from the Vatican only reflects the patterned Catholic struggle with transition. He boldly recognizes that despite his accomplishments during his papacy, the Catholic Church deserves a leader who can better modernize with the changing times than a frail, eighty-five year old.
This rather sobering expression of honesty can very likely mark a revolutionary precedence for the Catholic Church. Not even including the radical possibilities for his replacement, such powerful boldness from the uppermost Catholic authority figure can hopefully lead to more open-mindedness from other higher Catholic orders on pivotal social issues. The feminism movement, the rapid advancement of technology, the increase in pre-marital cohabitation, among other transformative Western societal developments place rising pressure on the Catholic Church to evolve from its traditional Catholic doctrines. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported on the same Monday that the Catholic Church is growing most rapidly in African and Latin American countries, which also pushes the Church to venture to new realms of comfort.
Neither Pope Benedict XVI nor I recommend that the Church needs to stray away from its highly valued Catholic Tradition. Rather, we acknowledge that traditional Roman Catholicism will inevitably need to adjust to the changing secular society. If it doesn’t, it will risk remaining relevant to modern Catholic laypeople and may struggle to retain membership. Who knows whom the cardinals will deem worthy enough to hold the next papal power – an African, a woman, Barack Obama, a twelve year old, or another conservative white male. Regardless, Pope Benedict XVI admirably left the door open for change with his monumental exit.