Each time a new Pope is to be elected it raises the difference between two forms of church governance. Catholics, Methodists, and other denominations have Episcopal systems of governance. Quakers, Baptists, and others have Congregational systems. An Episcopal system is more efficient. It is hierarchical so that decisions are made by just a few. Congregational systems are less efficient but are often better at fostering community. The authority of a true community is, in the long run, more powerful than an edict from a Bishop or Pope, for a gathered people is impossible to ignore. I prefer hierarchy when it comes to coaching and business, but with respect to religion, I think circles (Congregationalism) are better than pyramids (Episcopacy), for from circles wisdom and authority can rise from anyone, including women.
It is a privilege to take this occasion to say thank you to Benedict XVI for his profound ministry of teaching and preaching. I remember reading his first encyclical “God is Love” years ago, and since then buying as many of his other books I could. His series on Jesus of Nazareth, like all his others, combines a highly technical appreciation for modern biblical scholarship with balanced and deeply pastoral evaluation of the materials. Many times he politely offers needed corrective, not by retrenchment, but by taking the arguments to a new and different height. His writings – books, sermons and his weekly Angelus reflections — are original and provocative, obviously the result of an exceptional life of biblical, theological and culture-sensitive study, and from a heart of love for Jesus. I think almost every Protestant Christian, also, for whom the Virgin Mary is a sideline player in the gospel, will rethink his or her position after reading Benedict. I thank God for Benedict and his ministry. If there ever was a person to open new conversation about Christian unity — not even principally for the Anglican Ordinariate he initiated — he is that person.
I’m afraid that when it comes to Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy in terms of interfaith and ecumenical relations, he has been quite disappointing. He has continually rolled back the progress that Vatican II made in so many fronts, choosing the purity of dogma over the integrity of love. I would hope that the next pope might have a more universal spirit. Think we can have another Pope John XIII?
I continue to find great hope in the Catholic Church, however, not because of the hierarchy, but because of the faithful priests and nuns I have met giving their all in Central and South America; or the courageous sisters who are finding their long-silenced voices under the threat of censure as they call for justice; and most immediately, our mid-town brothers and sisters at Immaculate Conception, led by my good friend Monsignor Val Handwerker, who continue to take seriously the call of Jesus to work for justice and peace.
I commend Pope Benedict for breaking new ground in resigning and wish him well in retirement. On Monday he made the announcement in Latin, and reportedly some of the Cardinals in attendance didn’t understand what he was saying! Hopefully the new Bishop of Rome—with the responsibility of the Apostle Peter’s teaching ministry—will proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in a language and way that people throughout the world can understand. In that way, the Gospel can be truly “good news,” calling us to conversion and new life in Christ.
I appreciate Pope Benedict’s interlinking of charity and justice. “If we love others with charity then first of all we are just toward them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel party to charity: justice is inseparable from charity and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity….[Charity in Truth,6].
I appreciate his robust defense of the morality of economic activity. “The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with human needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption, and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence [op. cit 37, emphasis in original].
Greatly to be admired, this Pope, who leads over 1 billion Catholics worldwide, knows himself. He knows his limitations. He knows and understands what is required in this day and time to lead so great a people and he knows when it is time to step aside in order for another to take the reigns of leadership, regardless of centuries of tradition and expectations. He does this, it would seem, for the good of the whole. There seems to be for this Pope a deep consciousness of responsibility. Is this not the mark of true wisdom and humility? Is this not the mark of courage and strong leadership? Perhaps, this is this Pope’s greatest achievement.
Many people around the world have differences with Pope Benedict XVI. As a Presbyterian minister, I certainly do. But I have admired, among other attributes, his moral and intellectual courage: in his brief papacy, he has boldly and thoughtfully confronted the moral relativism of postmodern Western culture, the irrationality of Islam, and the sins of the Church, and he has consistently demonstrated the notion that the group one leads is more important than one’s self, eminently manifested in his historic, principled decision to resign the papacy for the sake of the church. One has to be impressed.
Modern culture is like a rebellious teenager, wise in his own eyes and bristling at any attempt to limit his freedom. The Church is a seemingly inflexible mother, bent on protecting her feckless child from self-inflicted disaster.
The Catholic Church, because of its longevity and size, draws the greatest fury from our culture. How dare she make truth claims that defy the full expression of our will? For the last eight years Pope Benedict XVI has audaciously reminded the world that all cultures are subject to God and that true freedom comes only through Jesus Christ. In fulfilling his papal ministry, Benedict has drawn on a lifetime of world-class scholarship combined with faithful service to the Church and the world. Like the best of men, he’s imperfect, but he’s fought the good fight and will soon finish his race. Now there is in store for him a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
I feel Pope Benedict’s decision is courageous, humble, and wise. To oversee the pastoral care of a church which covers the globe and
includes over one billion members from every demographic group under the sun requires, to say the least, someone with incredible vigor and
energy. The Holy Father realizes that such responsibilities should rest on the shoulders of a younger man. This present Year of Faith,
leading to a “New Evangelization” of the spread of the Gospel and growth in holiness, launched by Pope Benedict to commemorate the
50th anniversary of the momentous Second Vatican Council in which he was an active theological contributer, is a fitting celebration of
his legacy. His is a call for universal spiritual renewal. Having been in his presence during several events, including two World Youth
Days, I can attest that Benedict XVI is both a communicator and model of profound spirituality.
Pope Benedict’s resignation was a surprise to me. It appears to come out of much prayer and a fine sense of humility. Though I disagree with many of the positions he led our Catholic sisters and brothers toward, I think it is a time for joining in prayer for great new leadership. Personally, I would love to see the College of Cardinals elect a qualified person from outside Europe. That might say a lot in pointing to one world community as God’s dream for “some day…”