Pope’s Resignation May Lead to Reform for Aging Institution

Sean Para, Columnist

Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the See of Rome last Monday. This is an extraordinary event; the last time a pope resigned was during the 15th-century Council of Constance. Three rivals claimed the papal throne, promoting a schism that had gone on for 50 years. Two popes were deposed and the third resigned to make way for a new one who was acceptable to the various political factions of Christendom. Unlike the early 15th century, the current pope was under no widespread pressure to step down. He simply chose to leave his office, usually held for life like any monarchy, elective or hereditary. There is little precedent for his resignation, which will take effect Feb. 28th. However, the resignation has already touched off a competition between various cardinals over who will succeed to the Holy See. It is curious that the pope has resigned citing ill health and an inability to complete his duties when many other decrepit pontiffs have remained in office until the very end. Perhaps it has to do with the myriad of troubles the church currently faces. Benedict’s resignation comes at time of great change and turmoil for the Catholic Church. There is impetus for reform, especially on key issues such as contraception, yet the ecclesiastical establishment is deeply conservative and many of the higher members of the clergy are as resistant to change as they has been for the past millennia. Change in the church happens slowly, over centuries, not in quick bursts of revolution and rebirth. Even more serious is the role the Vatican plays as a safe haven for priests who are sex offenders. Many priests charged with pedophilia and child abuse are able to flee to the Vatican and escape prosecution or punishment for their heinous crimes. It is a deep irony that an institution that espouses morality actively protects some of the most wretched and vile criminals in our society. It would seem that Benedict XVI, whose papacy was filled with scandal and constantly compared to that of his illustrious and beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, simply felt unable to live up to the task of fixing these problems during his last few years in this world. One hopes he will be able to continue to process in the afterlife, no matter his new place of residence. The Catholic Church has been around for millennia. Its origins lay in the Late Roman Empire, and since the middle of the 6th century it has been a defining force in Western society. Yet the society it shaped administratively, morally, philosophically, politically and culturally has outgrown it. The church and the papacy serve as only a negative force in our society. No good will comes from banning contraception for HIV-positive Catholics, excluding women from the clergy and thus reinforcing patriarchy and the general resistance to change and new knowledge inherent to the Catholic Church. Our society must move into the future without the impositions of organized religion. Let us hope that the church, as moribund as the man who leads it, will slowly fade away and allow the world to continue unfettered to a better future.