I could not quite believe my eyes this morning when a New York Times alert flashed across my phone: "Pope Benedict Resigns." This is probably the biggest single news item in the worldwide Christian Church in my lifetime. The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion of my brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic community is doing something that has no real precedent. While it is true that there was a pope who resigned back in 1415, that resignation came amidst one of the greatest scandals in Church history, with three different popes vying for control!
This resignation is clearly different. Though Benedict has certainly been a controversial pope, presiding over an increasingly firm turn to the theological right, he has not been personally embroiled in scandal to the same degree. Certainly nothing that would indicate that he should resign from an office that until now has essentially been considered unresignable.
And yet, here we are. Benedict has announced his retirement from the papacy on the basis of his advanced age and his own personal judgment that he is no longer able to fulfill the role of spiritual father to the Roman Catholic community. Declaring his retirement date as 28 February, 2013, Benedict is giving a little more than two weeks notice. Assemble the cardinals: It is time to select a new pope!