BAYHAM: Could We Please Take The Pope At His Word?

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” –Pope Benedict XVI announcing his decision to renounce his office.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to vacate the papacy, the media immediately pounced with stories to make it appear he was being forced out due to church sex scandals.

Why is it so hard for the press to simply take the Holy Father at his word?

How many people do you know start a new job at the age of 78, a point in life where most people are many years removed from their retirement party? Yet at that age then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger assumed the glorious yet demanding burden of serving as leader of the world’s billion Roman Catholics.

The grandmother of a good friend often says that getting old isn’t for wimps and Benedict in recent months has shown more of his 85 years of age.

He’s had heart issues, has increasingly looked gaunt in his appearance and utilized a moving platform to arrive at the altar at Saint Peters’ Basilica for Christmas Eve Mass.

Maybe Benedict did not want his declining health to become the defining story of the Church during his time left on earth. Anyone remember the constant media death watch on John Paul II, as vulture journalists obsessed over his appearance and slurred speech?

It’s apparent that Benedict did not want to just preside over the Church but wanted to actually run it as well and saw no point in remaining on St. Peter’s chair if he lacked the physical capacity to do the job.

As Benedict’s incapacities mount with age, so does the reality that more papal administrative duties inevitably become assumed by others. It’s possible that Benedict was concerned about the prospect of actions not of his hand being made in his name.

And perhaps those in the journalism community who have feverishly grasped at the most sensationalized alternate theory for Benedict’s decision to step down are too young to comprehend how advanced age and frailty could cause someone to abandon such a lofty position.

Or maybe they were just displaying their deep-seated cynicism and predisposition to always view the Church in a negative light?

Benedict’s resignation was a supreme act of humility, surrendering the trappings of the papacy to live in a self-imposed quasi-exile of prayer and meditation.

How many politicians choose to leave office feet first, unwilling to walk (or wheel) away from positions of far less power and adulation?

Though a conservative, Benedict was open to appropriate change within the Church, bringing back acceptance of the Latin Mass, reaching out to Anglicans and Orthodox Christians and altering the English Mass missal to place a greater emphasis on the soul, the part of us that is eternal.

Though not nearly as prolific of a traveler as his predecessor, Benedict embraced new technology, being seen using iPods and iPads and even tweeting. Though lacking the charisma of John Paul II, Benedict made an effort to be a visible witness to the faith, including holding outdoor weekly audiences outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict’s refusal to give his blessing to artificial birth control, married priests and female priests, invited ridicule from the media though I don’t think the man who now has the title Pope Emeritus lost any sleep over criticism from his rejection of those “modernist” ideas.

Derided by critics as “God’s Rottweiler” and unkindly reminded by the press for his association with the Hitler Youth (compulsory service for a German teenager in the Third Reich), Benedict overcame these characterizations intended to discredit his papacy from the start to become a voice for compassion, preaching to the world that God is love.

Benedict proved to be far more than just a caretaker leader and filled the void left by John Paul II as well as anyone else could and won over the hearts of the faithful.

Benedict XVI ably served the Lord and the Church during his time as people and I wish him peace and tranquility as he transitions from Pontiff Maximus to simple priest self-assigned to a more hidden spiritual ministry.

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