On February 11, 2013, Joe Ratzinger announced that he would resign at the end of that month as pope of the Roman Catholic Church. “He emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — requires ‘both strength of mind and body’.” The 85 year-old had come to the conclusion that his condition in his advanced age precluded him from being able to sufficiently perform the duties of his office. The fact that he had witnessed the debilitating end of John Paul II’s papacy was undoubtedly a factor. It is ironic that a very conservative man would be the one to go against a custom that had been unceasingly observed since Gregory XII “stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.”
The custom of staying in office until death had gained the right of place in the status quo, and thus an obligatory sense had come to be associated with the practice. In contrast, Ratzinger had argued, “If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.” In this case, the explicit obligation goes up against the implicit obligation that goes with maintaining a practice or custom in the status quo. The explicit obligation is superior to the implicit one because the latter is artificial in nature. That is to say, the duty to maintain a practice simply because it has been exercised for a long time suffers from a want of rationale or justification. In contrast, not being able to fulfill one’s vocational duties involves a duty to resign based on the deontological principle of fulfilling one’s obligations. Hence if in making a promise or contract, one is not able (or willing) to fulfill one’s part, one has the duty to make restitution to the other party.
The tragedy being possibly recognized in the wake of Ratzinger’s announcement is how much the office has needlessly been performed sub-optimally due to a pope’s infirm condition. In other words, the fact that the sky does not fall after all when a pope resigns suggests that there is nothing wrong with any pope resigning when he has come to the point in his life when he can no longer optimally fulfill the administrative/policy tasks of the office. In fact, resigning can be viewed as a good thing because the Roman Catholic Church depends on a fully-functioning system of church government. The papacy plays a very significant role even in the day to day operations, albeit at a high level of course. More than an omission of leadership is missing when the occupant of the office is too old to perform the office’s tasks.
The argument that simply being a living symbol of the Church and being a witness to suffering justify the tasks not being performed even for years at a time essentially privileges one part of the office and misconstrues the role of suffering in the Crucifixion. Such suffering is not suffering per se or needless suffering; it is suffering in a theological sense, and thus of added meaning from a context missing in suffering from simply having reached a ripe old age. Generally speaking, the tyranny of even a long-standing custom can give rise to mistaken rationales that themselves gain sacred status and so are presumably not to be questioned. The religious auspices get stretched too far, and thus presume too much for themselves. Religion itself becomes human, all too human, rather than divine.
For more, please read the following article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/11/pope-benedict-xvi-to-resi_n_2660670.html