I have been Catholic all my life. I went to Saint Philomena and then Monsignor Bonner High School, for a total of eight years of lessons in Catholicism. In all that time, no one, not a single nun or priest ever mentioned to me that a pope can quit.
I knew the pope could excommunicate me—because the nuns threatened me with that several times for a variety of corporal offenses like running in the hall or chewing gum. When the orders came from the Vatican, they would strip the Saint Phil’s emblem off your jacket and send you to the school across the street where you would become “a public.” Of course, I never actually saw it happen to anyone, but other kids swore it was a frequent occurrence.
But the pope can’t quit. He has to go down with the ship, or so I thought until yesterday.
And now I have so many burning unanswered questions. Who does the pope turn his two weeks’ notice in to? Does he write a “Dear Jesus” letter? Can God quit? Has he? Because that would explain the inexplicable success of Fifty Shades of Grey.
By now you’ve heard that the last time a pope quit was 600 years ago during the Middle Ages, when popes had a lot more power and could launch Crusades, order Inquisitions and bring down monarchies. Ah, the good old days.
Even without that immense power, it is still awesome to be pope in 2013. You are one of the most famous people in the world and you win every argument. Infallibility, hello! That is why it is an amazing act of humility to give up the title of Pope for the good of the Church. In two weeks, what do we call the former Pope Benedict? Joe? He’ll be like Pete Best, the former drummer of the Beatles. Everyone will say, “Look, there’s Joe Ratzinger, he used to be Pope.”
No, I don’t buy the story that Pope Benedict quit, excuse me, abdicated because of his age and failing health. Seriously, how physically grueling can the job really be? He doesn’t even have to walk, if he doesn’t want to. He is propped up in a giant bubble and moved down the street. I think the Pope stepped down because the Church is in trouble and he knows it needs new leadership.
After decades of child-abuse scandals, attendance at American Catholic churches is at an all-time low and Catholic schools are closing. Those who have stayed with the church are looking for reform. The continents where the Catholic Church is still strong and growing are Africa and South America.
Pope Benedict will now have the unique honor of having a strong say selecting his successor. He would be wise to choose a pope who is not European, is not really old, and is not white. I believe Benedict knows this, and it is the major reason he stepped aside.
It won’t be easy. The Vatican is as political as Washington D.C. and change is difficult. The conservatives in the conclave will fight for an Italian. If Benedict can pull this off, he could save the Church and go down in history as one of the greatest Popes.
There is a precedence for this in American history. Many consider George Washington our greatest president for having the courage to step down after eight years. Washington could have been king, but he gave up power for the good of the country.
If the pope quitting leads to a greater good, he becomes legendary, like Washington. If that doesn’t work out, he’s Pete Best.