Pope's decision to quit is act of brave 'self-sacrifice'
The man dubbed 'God’s Rottweiler' bows out at 85, sending shock waves through the Catholic faith
MANY Catholics will be shocked by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on the grounds of “age and infirmity”, but it is an act of “self-sacrifice” by a man who doesn’t want his Church to suffer as a result of his frailty, says Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph.
Thompson says the Pope's decision to stand aside is "almost beyond belief" because the last time it happened was when Gregory XII bowed out in 1415. That said, Thompson admits it has long been suspected that 85-year-old Joseph Ratzinger would turn to the little-used option of stepping aside if he became incapacitated because he has a "radical and stubborn streak".
News of the pontiff's decision, which apparently came as a surprise even to his close aides, sparked a wide range of reactions today. French television showed Catholics at Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in tears, while French president François Hollande called the decision "eminently respectable". The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he learned of the pope's resignation with a "heavy heart, but complete understanding".
Ratzinger will leave office on 28 February, the Vatican said. The post will remain empty until a papal conclave elects his successor, hopefully by Easter, which this year falls on 31 March.
The Guardian’s John Hooper says the German pope was a "paradox". He was "intellectually remorseless" and had a passion for Catholic doctrine that earned him the nickname "God’s Rottweiler". But like many scholars he was "personally timid" and lacked the "desk-thumping vigour" required to foist reforms on clerics.
Then again, reform was not Ratzinger’s strong suit, says the BBC, because the man who became Pope in 2005 at the age of 78 is a "theological conservative" who holds uncompromising views on homosexuality and women priests. The broadcaster points out that Ratzinger became the head of the Catholic church as it was engulfed in the scandal of child sex abuse by priests and the crisis "may be the defining episode of his pontificate".
Ratzinger impressed many by insisting that the Church "accept its own responsibility", and he openly admitted to "sin within the Church". Even so, the Telegraph says Ratzinger's papacy was "marred by crises and controversies" and he sometimes seemed to "lurch from one public relations disaster to the next".
Low points included a 2006 speech in which he denounced the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and the 2009 decision to lift the 20-year ex-communication of a British bishop who had publicly questioned the extent of the Holocaust.
He angered homosexuals when he said defending heterosexuality was as crucial to the future of mankind as defending the rainforests. And in March 2009, on a week-long trip to Africa, health workers were infuriated by his comment that condoms had "aggravated! the AIDS crisis by promoting promiscuity.
But Thompson says Ratzinger's "remarkable" achievements should not be forgotten. He has renewed the worship of the Church, "reconnecting it to the majesty and deep piety of the past" and forged new links with non-Catholics, "for example by bringing ex-Anglicans into the fold through the Ordinariate".