A Protestant’s Reflection on the Pope Benedict’s Resignation

So raise your hand if you saw the Pope’s resignation coming … don’t lie … nope, me either.

I’ll admit my ignorance here, I don’t think I ever thought about the Pope resigning. And as we have been hearing, it hasn’t happened for 600 years.

Being Protestant, I obviously have a limited understanding of the papacy but I did have a great deal of respect for Pope Benedict XVI as I did Pope John Paul II. I respect them as men seeking God’s will and for the hope they represent to those that see the Pope in this light. My respect is not an endorsement of the Catholic Church however. There is so much that I don’t understand about Roman Catholicism. I do not understand the merits of the “single male priest.” I understand it’s stated origins, I understand celibacy, I do not understand forbidding marriage. And really how can I? As part of the Protestant clergy, we are not only allowed but encouraged to be married.

And like many, I do not understand all the scandals and coverups. I know as soon as I write this, I may upset people. My point is not to disparage the Catholic Church but the handling of these scandals (especially how these evil men who have molested boys have been protected) has been infuriating and disgraceful to God,society, and all the faithful priests and the goodness in the Catholic Church.

Again, I don’t understand the papacy – empowering one man to serve this way. This not being my tradition, I interpret the New Testament much differently and I will say no more on these matters and work to serve the weak spots in my own.

So, I clicked the headline to get a better sense of the story. I am happy to accept the reason given – a many who will be turning 86 felt he was no longer able to fulfill his duties. He felt differently than his predecessors who died while serving and this has created debate and suspicion. And this what has me thinking. An elderly man of extraordinary influence cannot resign without suspicion. It’s sad in some way but because of our human history, most of us understand why it is this way.

Clicking around online of course has seen a diverse reaction. A good bit of anti- Ratzinger sentiment, a lot of anti-Catholic expressos, and again, a good amount of suspicion, some conspiracy theories including the a HBO documentary entitled, “Mea Maxima Culpa’: Sex, Lies, and the Catholic Church.” I haven’t’ seen it but I seriously doubt with all that the Pope and the Vatican have been through that they are going to respond to a HBO documentary.

There have also been some honoring and kind tributes. Like from one blogger who wrote, “I’ve been saying this morning that if John Paul II showed us how to die, Pope Benedict XVI is showing us how to step aside in humility and love.” (Apologies for losing the link – will find it soon).

And of course, there are a lot of jokes. Like this one from the new Twitter account called ‏@TheExPontif – “Guess vhat I’m giving up for Lent?”

I’d like to encourage you to be tolerant of some of the humor. Not all of it is actually disrespectful. Further, the humor is part of how our culture processes important moments. That said, I do pity us if we only process with humor and not take time to reflect on what needs to be considered.

So here’s where I am. I am saddened that for far too many of us, our first thought is to assume scandal. We are not accustomed to figures of power resigning over issues not concerning moral failure. That’s not to make anyone feel guilty, as I can’t help but think similarly. But again, this is a sad commentary on our human history and how we feel we cannot afford to be naive.

I will not be following this story for the gossip or quietly hoping for scandal. I may be a grateful Protestant but I am not anti-Catholic. I would love nothing more than to see the Catholic Church continue to serve the world in beautiful ways and to improve upon the obvious and not as obvious issues they face. Some essential issues sooner than others of course.

Grace and peace to you, Cardinal Ratzinger.

Further reading:
Pope’s Full Statement of Resignation
Will Cardinal Martini’s ‘200 years out of date’ comments echo in the Conclave?
Alex Gibney’s ‘Mea Maxima Culpa’: Sex, Lies, and the Catholic Church
A Few Quick Takes on Holy Father’s Resignation
The Pope Resigns. Good Decision.
Adios to the Pope


  1. The Slothful One says:

    Very thoughtful blog post as always, Tim. Just one small issue. I don’t think it fair for you to reference & link to that so-called “documentary”. It’s a hatchet job on Pope Benedict & yellow journalism at its worst.

    Please read the following piece for a much more honest evaluation of Pope Benedict’s handling of the issue.

    A Papal Conversion
    By JOHN L. ALLEN Jr.
    Published: March 27, 2010


    I steered away from speculating on FB about this because that’s not the place for it. But I’ll do so here with your permission. I think he was chosen to become Pope to specifically clean the Church of “this filth”. And, certainly along with his age I can’t help but think this too took a great toll on him.

    He was very well respected by all the Orthodox Churches, is a brilliant Patristic scholar and a tireless defender of Christians in the Middle East. I’m saddened to see him step down as Pope.

    OK, one last thing & I’m done.

    Our beloved Teta Nazeera had visited us around the time Pope John Paul passed away & I’d recorded the funeral service. We sat together and watched the whole service, which was quite moving.

    In our conversation, she asked who I thought would be pope. I responded that I don’t know, that I wished it would be Cardinal Ratzinger but he was too old, too conservative, too this, too that, I mentioned other more likely men, etc. She simply responded, “He will be the Pope”.

    I miss her dearly.

  2. I miss Teta too – beautiful story – thanks for sharing it.

    Maybe I could have written that paragraph with more clarity. I thought it was a ridiculous theory that the Pope’s resignation has anything to do with this documentary. The link was for context, not endorsement.

    From where I sit, this is how social media works – any reader, regardless of expertise or intellectual integrity can post/comment on any issue, event, or story in any way. It’s up to the next reader to discern the merits of what’s posted. Still, your words leave me thinking I should give that some further thought – will do so.

    Appreciated this line from the NY Times piece you linked – “For anyone who knows the Vatican’s history on this issue, Benedict XVI isn’t just part of the problem. He’s also a major chapter in the solution.” Thanks for sharing.

  3. The Slothful One says:

    My apologies for not being more clear. That’s why you have a blog & I don’t! You most certainly mentioned it as a conspiracy theory. But rather than leaving it at that or linking to something to corroborate your point, you linked to a Tina Brown puff piece. That’s what vexed me.

    I’ll readily admit this is a pet peeve of mine. I abhor that such works can hide under the title of “documentary”, a genre that sadly no longer exists. Advocacy, propoganda, self gratifying “porn” for those who style themselves intellectuals; call it anything else.

    Regardless, it was a minor point I wanted to make to what was a wonderful and generous blog post.

    As for the Edict of Milan, you mentioned a while back (you see, I do read all your posts), we’ll save that for an evening of beer & cigars ;-). All the best, brother!

  4. No apology necessary – I got you though. Yep, the “documentary” trend has gotten a bit crazy – where just about any argument or rant accompanied by some video, first person narrative, an interview or two and a soundtrack is bestowed that title. Agreed that it’s a form of self-gratifying porn in this sense (so much is).

    Looking forward to the Edict of Milan conversation. May it be as excellent as our ones on the Crusades.

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