Joseph Ratzinger has resigned. Joseph who ? you may ask. And what's in a resignation - after all somebody is resigning from something all the time. Ah well; its not just anybody. It's Pope Benedict who resigned about a week ago. Popes rarely resign - its one of the few "jobs" for life. The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory in 1415 to end the Western Schism - a complete mess when there were two competing claimants as Pope.
Pope Benedict stated that he was getting on in years (he is 85 after all) and that the leader of a billion catholics around the world needed "strength of body and mind". While he cited the lack of strength of his body, I dare say his real reason was the strength of the mind.
It has been a period of great tumult for the Catholic Church. It was during his papacy that the child molestation scandals in Europe and America burst into the open. Leaked papers from the Pope's butler showed the Vatican in very poor light - messy politics and the whiff of corruption seemed to permeate even at the top. The Vatican was also involved in financial matters which did not cast it in favourably. The Pope was said to have tried reform, but was said to have been rebuffed. Maybe he was just tired. Maybe God called him to step aside. We will never know. Joseph Ratzinger is retreating into a convent to do what he probably always wanted to do - be with God. Not be a CEO.
A CEO is what the papacy is increasingly turning to. The Vatican is a massive organization which needs to be managed just like any other organization. It deals with large sums of money. It deals with global affairs. It deals with thousands and thousands of "employees". It is challenged by globalization - the centre of the catholic world is increasingly no longer Rome, but Latin America. In short, it is facing what every other organization which deals with more earthly matters, faces.
It would be a pity for the Papacy to become a CEO's office, although that is the direction in which it is going. The world badly needs spiritual guidance. There is much moral failing in the world, and traditionally, it has been men of cloth who have given mankind, the moral steer. You could argue that organized religion has done more harm than good - witness the atrocities that have been committed throughout human history in the name of religion. But that would be a one sided view. Religion has also brought great comfort. It has healed many a heart. It has shown the way to many a soul.
The world's major religions are in crisis. Islam seems to be driven in a number of directions. Hinduism has had its fair share of godmen and leaders who have fallen from their pedestal - some literally. TV evangelists and faith healers seem to abound. Money seems to have overwhelmed even the spiritual, much as it has done to the temporal.
Atheists may disagree with me that the fall of religion is not a bad thing. They may be right. But I am lost in an ocean of despair. Moral failings seem to abound. I am rocked by the tides of sorrow. I see much evil around me. I am not able to accept the value systems that are the norm today. I am adrift in a frightening sea, searching for a beacon from a lighthouse.
Witness the betting going on as to who would be the next Pope. Apparently Canadian Marc Ouellet and Ghanaian Peter Turkson are favourites at odds of 7 to 2. Betting on a Pope ?
Papa, Latin for Pope, pray for us.