For the first time in six centuries a pope has resigned, and Pope Benedict XVI should be respected for doing so. After eight years as pope, the 85-year-old Benedict announced Monday that he would step down because he no longer has the mental and physical stamina to fulfill his duties, sparing the Roman Catholic Church the prolonged decline of its leader, as it endured with Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
The former Joseph Ratzinger was chosen pope when he was 78, an age at which most people have retired from their careers and are not beginning new ones. His election set the church up for this shocking day. Pope Benedict belatedly began dragging the church out of the denial phase of its pedophile scandal, in which the crimes of priests were compounded by the cover-ups of their superiors, but the pope’s charming use of Twitter in recent months aside, he could not through age and personality be the vibrant leader the church needs during these tumultuous times.
Many Catholics in the United States and elsewhere disagree with the Vatican’s anti-gay, anti-contraception polices and are open to women priests and ending the celibacy policy for priests. Under Pope Benedict, these policies were not even open for discussion. Institutions worldwide in the 21st century are adopting fresh perspectives and adapting to new demands. The Catholic Church could use a young, dynamic leader, perhaps from somewhere other than Europe, to fully involve it with the needs of a rapidly changing flock.