My husband Peter puts it well:
Sad and surprising news. I learned about Pope Benedict’s resignation this morning from a fellow teacher who is an agnostic, but who has long been an admirer of the Pope for his fortitude and eloquence. I don’t know how many of you have ever had reason or opportunity to read one of Pope Benedict’s books (he has written a couple of shelves’ worth), but I don’t think it is unfair to say that he is one of the most intelligent and articulate people alive today. None of us can imagine how difficult the job of Pontiff is: guiding a church of one billion people worldwide, serving their pastoral needs, speaking for the Magisterium on the most tricky theological and ethical issues of the day, dealing with heresies and schisms with both firmness and compassion. Now, a sad picture will unfold for a time. The sensationalists looking for a dramatic story will start devouring this one, looking at potential successors among the Cardinals and treating the next conclave as a sporting event. Or those who will try to analyze the coming conclave as a struggle between “conservatives” and “liberals” – two terms that are flawed even as we use them in our own nation’s political-speak, and which don’t conceptually fit the Church at all. And, of course, those who have despised Pope Benedict from the start for whatever twisted reasons they have are already beginning to take shots at him and his papacy (ironically, the people who are quickest to do this are often the same ones who champion themselves as defenders of “tolerance”, though the range of that tolerance always seems to exclude Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals, who are all apparently still considered fair targets for ignorant and bigoted attacks). The hypocrisy out there is sickening. One has to admire his serenity and composure through everything – so unlike most leaders of any type that we’re accustomed to here in the U.S. As is often the case with Church leaders, it is only with some benefit of time and retrospection that we will understand and more fully appreciate his real accomplishments and contributions during his time as Cardinal and as Pope. In the meantime, we will soon see what Our Lord intends for the Church as a successor is chosen. May God give Pope Benedict XVI peace and comfort as he moves on.
This is one of the worst-written editorials I have seen in a while, but it illustrates one of the problems that we see when most American journalists try to cover issues related to the Catholic Church. First, most of them just aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable about it. They don’t understand its doctrines or practices, and so they make quick, uninformed presumptions that are often flat-out wrong. If a journalist who is not Catholic and doesn’t know much about how the Church works is assigned such a story, I can understand how that would be a tricky and difficult story for that person to write. But, in that case, good journalistic practice would dictate being very careful in drawing and stating conclusions. What we see instead in most of our media outlets is journalists who are anxious to make bold and dramatic statements, even at the expense of accuracy. Second, American journalists – like many other commentators throughout our society – see the Church (and often religion in general) through a set of very narrow American lenses. So, we have editorials like this one, which evaluates the papacy of Benedict XVI as if he were a presidential candidate. The kinds of changes that this editorial talks about – changes which the author blames Benedict for not making happen – are ones which can take decades, and the Pope is not someone who can wave a wand and change what others believe anyways. We Americans listen to our presidential candidates promise quick solutions to huge problems, and we expect them to make those happen. We start scoring them on their success almost immediately. And, we expect lots of glad-handing, lots of photo opportunities with a perfectly orchestrated appearance, and plenty of touchy-feely moments where our leaders engage in token interaction with groups of people that warm our hearts. Leaders who don’t do that here are often considered disappointments or worse, and this editorial seems to be applying those very same standards to Benedict XVI. Some of the general issues he raises are ones we can certainly discuss. What was the real progress of ecumenism? What was achieved in terms of healing schism? But that requires actually study and perspective, not a quick “He failed!” like this author impulsively states. Seriously, if we are so disappointed with our quality of leadership here, as so many are, why should we so reflexively apply those same standards to religious (not political) leaders from other (not the U.S.) nations? But that won’t stop a torrent of American journalists from evaluating Benedict XVI the same way one would evaluate a candidate for the Oscars.