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Expert Comment: Pope Benedict XVI to resign

Castel Santangelo Tuesday 12 February 2013

Dr David Torevell, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, considers the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

It has surely taken Pope Benedict XVI many months and long hours in tortuous, silent prayer before he decided to resign himself to the view, that due to physical and mental tiredness, the best way forward for the Catholic Church was for him to step down. This must have been an agonizingly difficult decision for him to make; after all, not many Popes have done this in the past and a good few important people might be disappointed, if not slightly angry, with his stance. I would guess, too, that there is a spiritual attraction in seeing such an office through until the bitter end, and of breathing one’s last, exhausted breadth while in post, confident in the hope that such an end is really only the beginning.

But I, for one, am not angry at all that he has resigned. Although (selfishly) I would have liked him to have continued as the successor to St. Peter for many years to come, on reflection, I admire and applaud his decision. Let me explain why. As an Augustinian, Pope Benedict XVI is well aware that self-knowledge and the cultivation of the inner life are the foundation stones for human growth and happiness. To ignore the stirrings and promptings of the heart, is to ignore the God who resides there.

As someone who has on a daily basis, absorbed scripture into the very depth of his being, Pope Benedict XVI is as sure as can humanly be possible, that God wants him to lay down his Petrine keys and for another to pick them up. As a servant who loves the Church with an intensity that Pope Benedict XVI does, it is not surprising that he wishes, at this moment in time, for a different leader – more able than himself - to steer the barque of Christ. This demonstration of humility is a teaching in itself and his very public resignation allows those of us who attend to it carefully, to be as changed by its courage as much as one of his great encyclicals.

Some sections of the media will no doubt splatter his failings across the front pages and many might work their insidious way into our mobile phones. But others, I hope, will point to his remarkable successes and concerns: his love for the poor and marginalized, his brilliant and insightful theological writings, his fostering of interreligious dialogue (in particular, Jewish-Christian relations), his willingness to enter into honest debate with those who do not believe in God, his deep worry that too many young people are being trapped by false ideologies and exploitative factions, his determination to say that relativism is not the best way forward, his sleepless nights about the secularization of Europe, his love of beauty and the arts, his conviction that at the heart of religion is love.

I, personally, will remember all this and, of course, his gentle and endearing smile; for me and millions of others, it speaks of one who has resigned himself to truth and nothing less.

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