Regardless of its intended message, the comment made by Wojtyla’s former secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, about John Paul II “not coming down from the cross” came across as a negative criticism of Benedict XVI’s shock decision. The Pope did in fact resign of his own free will and has announced he will be stepping down formally on 28 February because of his dwindling strength. He does not appear, however, to be suffering from any illnesses and his as sharp as ever, as he demonstrated with the lectio divina he delivered off the cuff to Roman Seminarists a few days ago. So why is the Pope “coming down from the cross”? Could it be a way of shirking his responsibilities?
In the homily which marked the start of his Pontificate in April 2005, Benedict XVI had asked faithful to pray: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” And many “wolves” have popped up during the course Benedict XVI’s almost four-year papacy. The Pope has confronted them with leniency. He decided to leave the papacy during a moment of calm, when the Vatileaks scandal had come to an end and after issuing a series of hard-and-fast rules on the acts of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests against minors.
Had the “cross” of his pontificate become too much to bear? Absolutely, otherwise the elderly Bavarian theologian would not have resorted to taking such a drastic decision, a first in Church history, given that none of the extremely rare cases of resignations presented in the two millennia that preceded his are comparable to this. But the Pope’s gesture cancels out what he said in his first speech to cardinals in the Sistine Chapel after his election, about the fact that a Pope must “make Christ’s light shine…not his own.” Everything the Pope did throughout these tough few years was aimed at helping the Church understand that its real leader is not the pope or his protagonism or heroism as a solitary figure, lifted onto a pinnacle and exposed to the unforgiving lens of the world’s video cameras. The leader of the Church is Jesus. The Pope is “just” his vicar.
Maybe I will run the further ire of traditionalists, but I so agree with this idea. One of the most off-putting things to a non-Catholic Christian is what seems to be a worship of the Pope that gets the focus off Jesus. Thank you, Holy Father.
I know some traditionalists are mourning this abdication as a sign the role of the Vicar of Christ is merely like that of a CEO now.
But that’s not the case either. Let’s not go to extremes.