Rosemary February Blog
As the month of February draws to a close it is a most interesting time for the Catholic Church. Just days ago Pope Benedict XVI’s time as pope can to an historical end, as he became the first pope to resign in 598 years. With the number of Catholics being around 1.2 billion world wide, this is a decision that will impact upon the Church dramatically. Benedict’s resignation comes at a time of great uncertainty for the Church as cardinals gather to elect the next pope.
To symbolize the current vacuum in the Church, Benedict’s tweets have been archived and the Twitter page that was once his now states, ‘Sede Vacante’. The current discussions within the Sistine Chapel are entirely private and even Benedict will not get any advance notice of whom the next pope will be but will find out at the same time as Catholics worldwide.
Benedict’s last words as pope were spoken at Castel Gandolfo where around 10,000 people gathered to pay their respects to him and to bid him farewell. Benedict thanked the people for their ongoing support and stated, ‘I am no longer the pope but I am still in the church. I’m just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this earth’. It is evident from his comments that he in no way has abandoned the Church and wishes to continue working for the good of the Church. It was apparent as Benedict left the papal apartment that he looked frail and the time was no doubt right for him to resign, at what is a tumultuous time for the Church. Benedict humbly promised to continue to serve the Church in prayer so the right decision will be made in regards to the next pope. Notably Benedict also made a pledge of ‘unconditional obedience’ and respect to whoever is his successor.
The Vatican has stated that it wishes to initiate the process of choosing the next pope before the week of services leading up to Easter Sunday. Benedict’s resignation has created a time of uncertainty and possibility, as many question whether Benedict’s successor will choose to lead the Church in a different direction. It is a time of challenge and opportunity as the next pope may welcome people back to the Church and perhaps lift the Church out of the scandal that so notably marked Benedict’s time as pope.
When Benedict announced his retirement, inevitably there was speculation over whether this was linked to the current scandals that are developing. Dolan, the most senior Catholic cleric in the United States, stated that there was undeniably the need for recovery and renewal within the Church, and that this needs to happen soon before the Church loses any more support. Dolan doesn’t believe Benedict’s successor will seek to change the teachings of the Church but the change he believes that will occur is in the way the teachings of the Church are presented.
The current greatest challenge to the Vatican is that the scandals that shadowed Benedict’s time as pope will in fact overshadow his legacy to the Church, including his three papal encyclicals outlining his teachings and writings. The Vatican is trying to combat such attacks on Benedict, with its recent criticism that the media endorses false stories that are unverifiable. Media criticism and worldwide scandal have no doubt been influential in Benedict’s decision to step down, unsurprising at the age of 85 that he wishes to focus now on scholarly study and prayer. Benedict’s speech to his final audience in Saint Peter’s Square suggests as much as he stated that, although there had been ‘many days of sunshine’ there had also been ‘times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep’. Benedict ended his speech on a poignant note, declaring the need for a renewal of faith and reflection. Benedict’s resignation and the appointing of his successor I believe is a time of opportunity and hope for the Church. It is important at this time that Catholics unite in prayer, praying that the next pope chosen will be inspired by the Holy Spirit. If this occurs then the next pope can mark a time of change within the Church, as well as the rebuilding of the Church’s reputation, moving away from the scandal and criticism that have been prevalent over Benedict’s reign.