Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world recently when he announced that he will retire on Feb. 28, citing lack of strength of both mind and body. Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Harvard psychologist and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Great Health, says such a demanding job undoubtedly has taken its toll on popes throughout the ages, and that Benedict should be recognized for passing the torch while he still can.
Benedict’s announcement came “like a bolt out of the blue” to even the Pontiff’s closest circle. After examining his conscience, Benedict – 85-year-old Joseph Ratzinger of Germany – told a group of cardinals Monday, “before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of leading the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics. Benedict will be the first pope to resign in six centuries.
“In today’s world,” Benedict added, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The startling announcement has many wondering if finally a message is being sent that a younger, more energetic pope is needed in this day and age to keep up with the job.
Brown of Harvard said such a demanding job takes its toll on an individual – both mentally, and physically. That, combined with the challenges the Church is currently facing – allegations of sexual abuse, pressures to allow women to serve in higher posts, etc… – means one must be at the top of his, or her, game.
“Other than obvious religious factors, stress has to be the second most enduring common denominator for all Popes across the ages,” Dr. Brown says. “Inherent to any strong, effective leader is personal insight and an ability to recognize limits, even within oneself.
“Leadership skills are especially in check when stepping down from a high-ranking post. The leader who doesn’t pass the torch when it’s time to can cripple followers and an organization, often beyond repair. Pope Benedict’s resignation could easily be seen as the uniquely benevolent act as a strong leader and can demonstrate a leadership skill not often witnessed in our culture.”
The Pope’s brother said Benedict likely will stay out of the public eye and probably not even write any more. Benedict also plans to stay at the Vatican instead of moving home to Germany once he retires.
A new Pope is expected to be chosen by March 28, Easter. As for who the next Pope will be, some reports say the list includes these men: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former Archbishop of Quebec; Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s office for Eastern Churches.
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