Let me preface this post by saying that I am a terrible Catholic. The last time I went to Mass was in Edinburgh a few years ago, on a whim, when I found a cute church and weekday Mass was just about to start. I thought it couldn't be a coincidence, so I went and found myself struggling to remember the long-forgotten prayers that I never practiced enough to have them entirely engrained upon my memory.
For me, a beautiful church is a wonderful thing and Catholics did build beautiful churches. I like to sit in churches, staring at the architecture, the stained glass, the idols. Perhaps this is why I study religious history. Perhaps that also has something to do with my interrupted Catholicism. I never went through confirmation, so I'm not entirely certain I can call myself Catholic. I certainly don't take communion because that just feels wrong to me, as if I'd be an impostor. When I was eight, I told my parents I refused to Sunday school anymore (I really did not like my Sunday school teacher. She was awful.) I didn't realize, however, that they would take this to mean I didn't want to go to church anymore. That wasn't the case. I went with my dad and my nana every Sunday and then we went to breakfast afterwards, which I really liked. Sadly, refusing Sunday school meant the end of going to church and I actually was sad about that, even though I never told anyone that really. It's still difficult to admit. I have thought many times about going through the confirmation process, but my disagreements with the Church on so many issues has always stopped me. The tradition and ritual that I love about the Catholic Church has not been enough to overcome my sadness and indignation at the treatment of women, of homosexuals, and of its victims.
To say that today's news, the resignation of Benedict XVI, has...shaken things up is an obvious understatement. There are times when my long-neglected Catholicism rears its ugly head. It usually involves my Catholic guilt, which, let me tell you, must have been instilled in me from birth from my grandmother because it is some seriously powerful stuff. I, however, would not have expected to be as upset by this as I am. I am REALLY angry. I feel betrayed. Popes do not resign. Popes especially do not resign for health reasons. Coming from the successor to Pope John Paul II this is a particular slap in the face. PJP2's decline was very long, very public, and very painful to watch. Benedict XVI has been in office for eight years. Yes, he's 85 years old, but surely he knew the toll being pope would take on him, on his health. The entire world watched PJP2 as his health failed, so surely Benedict was well aware of what could happen.
Popes just don't resign. Resignation signals that the pontiff is just another job, like CEO of a business (and, yes, there are many who would claim that the Catholic Church is precisely a business and I'm not disagreeing, but this is not the vein I choose to discuss right now), but it's not a job. It's a calling. Right? That's what we're told over and over. Men of faith get called to the church. That means, or at least it should mean, that they stay with the church 'til death do they part. The only way out is death.
The timing of it all is particularly perplexing. He announces his resignation two days before the start of Lent. That's appalling, but it gets worse. His resignation will go into effect halfway through Lent. Are you serious? We could potentially be without a pope for Easter. EASTER! And does this mean the papal conclave will be under pressure to elect another pope before Easter? Yes. Of course it does. Rome can't be popeless for the resurrection of Christ.
So, what is going on? You have to wonder. It's the Catholic Church. There is always something they are not telling us. What is it this time? Anyone can see Benedict has changed over the past few years. He looks weaker, more frail. Is that just age? His resignation would suggest otherwise, but the Church is silent on the specifics, as usual. I find myself angry at this, too. We need a reason - a specific reason - for this resignation, for such a betrayal. I would find it easier to be sympathetic if we were told that the pope is suffering from Alzheimers or was given two months to live and those two months were going to be horrifically painful. I certainly don't wish that on him, but I don't think we should be left wondering what is happening, why this is happening, why he is abandoning the Church.
There is another side to this, though. I feel bad for Benedict. I can not imagine the struggle he must have gone through to decide to resign. How does a man who dedicates his life to the Church and to God decide that he must leave it? How does one who achieves the highest honor relinquish it? And how does a man who leads millions in their faith turn his back on them?
There are so many questions. I'm sure that, in time, we will get our answers. But, for now, the Catholic Church remains silent.
UPDATE: I've been listening to some of the responses from the Catholic Church and from, well, everyone. I think I'm starting to come around and be a little more understanding. Benedict's recognition that he is no longer physically and mentally able to lead the Church, make doctrinal decisions, etc. must have been terribly humbling. I can only hope it will benefit the Church. I'm certainly not one of those people thinking this means his successor will be more liberal in its views on birth control, women, homosexuals. I wish, but it's been seven years of Benedict, not 70. There's been no real major shift and I don't expect it coming from the conclave anytime soon, probably not even in my lifetime. And so my standoff with the Church continues.