Having an ex-Benedict for breakfast

Last updated 14:27 12/02/2013

Who'd be the head of the Catholic Church?

Besides being required to preside over the usual scandals around sexual abuse, endless arguments over contraception and continual financial crises, you're expected to serve in the role until the day you die.

So when the poor old Pontiff, pushing 86 and slowing down to the point where he needs a travelator to take him the 100 metres down the isle to mass, throws in the towel and says he's had enough, shock and outrage reverberate around the globe. 

Talk about having an ex-Benedict for breakfast.

We don't like quitters, do we? I won't risk outraging Catholics by claiming it's the Protestant in all of us, but there's something in the human psyche that simply doesn't tolerate giving up. Remember the opprobrium heaped on Australia's 'Lay Down Sally' Robbins, who simply stopped rowing during an Olympics final?

History has had some famous quitters, of course. King Edward VIII quit for love. President George Washington decided two terms was enough even though he didn't have to. Our own David Lange resigned as Prime Minister because he basically had enough.

Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, although arguably he didn't have much choice.

Our Queen Elizabeth exemplifies the stiff upper lip, Keep Calm and Carry On mentality. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is actually one year older than the outgoing Pontiff, and although she's slowed down a bit shows no sign of handing the job on to someone else. 

Prince Charles will no doubt be hoping the head of the COE follows the lead of her German counterpart. And perhaps she should. What's so wrong with putting one's feet up and enjoying a bit of time with the grand kids after more than six decades of service to one's country? 

Granted Benedict XVI hasn't been so long in the job as Queen Elizabeth, but the principle's the same. If a Pope feels mentally and physically exhausted, don't they have a moral obligation to resign rather to cling on to the bitter end?

Clearly not, given he's the first Pope to leave the Vatican voluntarily in more than 600 years. But then, the Catholic Church has always been more of a, er, fast follower than a leader in societal trends. 

Benedict's cause hasn't been helped by his predecessor John Paul, whose grim battle with old age and the onset of Parkinson's made the last of his 27 years as Pope almost as painful for the rest of us as they must have been for him.

By the time of his death in 2005, John Paul could barely speak, walk, or even hold his head up. He should not have had to continue under such ill health. 

It's been variously reported that Pope Benedict's resignation has or will plunge the Catholic Church into fresh crisis but I'm not so sure. While there has been histrionics, there has also been reason.

In the Pope's homeland of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that if the Pontiff had come to the conclusion that he no longer had the strength to continue in office, "that earns my very highest respect''. 

Parishioners in Pope-mad Cuba have been
quoted as saying they understood the Pope's reasons for stepping down and hoped it would open          
the door to a younger Pontiff. 

Fat chance, given the Vatican's cardinals have routinely elected elderly men. 

Others fear a schism in the Church through having both a Pope and an ex-Pope alive at the same time - particularly if whoever the cardinals elect has views perhaps more centrist than those of the arch-conservative Benedict. 

I think that's unlikely. Clearly, Benedict wants a cup of tea and a lie down. He doesn't want to get involved in any political back-stabbing at this stage in his life. 

If it's political in-fighting you're after, look no further than the tussle amongst the papal candidates. It's shaping up as a battle between Old Europe and the New World of Latin America, and it should be something to witness. 

In the meantime, let's let Pope Benedict enjoy the last few weeks before his self-imposed retirement. Perhaps he's taught some people that giving up isn't necessarily the same thing as quitting while you're ahead. And that should be celebrated.

Who knows, perhaps the next words in Latin to ring from St Peter's Square won't be ''habemus Papam'' (we have a Pope) but Pedicabo eam satis (rough translation: "Bugger it, I've had enough.'')


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