By now everyone has heard and has formed opinions about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he is going to retire.
I think we should start with the notion that he is retiring rather than resigning. Now, in order to retire, one must, technically, resign, too. So maybe it doesn't matter. But one can resign for many reasons, retirement being one of them. And retirement has connotations that resignation just doesn't. Popes have resigned, but I think Benedict is the first to retire.
Let me categorize some of the reactions I've seen among friends and over the internet.
First, there is the cynical, secular, godless reaction: The Catholic Church in this view sucks, and so does the pope, whoever the pope is, including this one. Good thing he's quitting, let's hope someone that shares our cynical, secular, godless view of religion takes his place.
Then there is the polite, diplomatic reaction of non-Catholics: Oh, what a surprise, he's a good and holy man, he'll be missed. That sort of thing.
But among Catholics I see these sorts of reactions:
Heartbreak and disappointment: This is what my wife is going through. Yes, the papacy is an office that can be held by anyone and indeed is held by no one permanently. But it is not just an administrative function in the Church. He's our father. Our leader. Our role model. Our inspiration. Retiring just doesn't cut it. It feels like he's abandoning us to the vagaries of the conclave, which by the way, may just give us someone who will do much damage. For instance, a weak and inept administrator or even worse a strong, action-minded but misguided individual. Now, the pope is old, and perhaps he doesn't have much longer to live, but doggone it, he should stay until the end and be our father until the end, and forestall a potentially dangerous conclave until the end. At least stick around and appoint some more cardinals who can vote in the conclave - you can do wonders in that way alone with another 6 months, a year, two years. It seems like a disappointing lack of... heroism. I am personally not as distraught as my wife, but I do share to some degree the heartbreak and disappointment.
Relief: Pope Benedict has been very traditional and has been turning back the clock on things Catholic, so much as we believe God has put him in the papacy, maybe now we can get back on track. My view is that one person's damage is another person's progress, and in my opinion, we've been making wonderful progress under Pope Benedict.
Wonderment: What a strange and unexpected thing this retirement of the Pope is! We love you, Pope Benedict!! If YOU think this is a good decision then it MUST be! You deserve you're retirement!! We just KNOW that you'll be praying for us in your monastery and we look forward to your writings and we KNOW that we're in your heart always!! You will always be our father!! We're saddened to hear of your frail health and hope that God will strengthen you until you finish your books!! I understand this mentality, but I do not share it, or rather I do, but only a little.
Reason: Well, look, if the pope is actually in ill health, the nefarious elements in the Church might be able to take advantage of his frailty as things get worse. If he retires now, then he is protecting the Church by enabling someone more capable to take over in a timely way. This is a good thing. I see the point of this, but I think it's just trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
I'm not the pope, but I think it's a bad decision.
This is how we know the pope is fallible on things administrative - accepting that he's infallible when teaching officially about faith and morals.
It's a bad decision because it sets a precedent. If popes can retire for reasons of ill health or old age, then every pope that finds himself in ill health will be expected to, asked to, pressured to retire. "You're sick, let someone stronger take over." "Your enemies will take advantage of your infirmity. Retire while your friends still have sway among the cardinal electors." "It might be a mortal sin to leave the Church without an effective shepherd while you slowly, slowly deteriorate." "Are you sooooo proud that you want the whole world to watch you suffer and die? Well you will have your reward before you die then, and risk losing your eternal reward!"
I think this is why John Paul II never retired, though he was pressured to. Popes do not retire. "There is no room in the Church for a Pope Emeritus," I think he once said. He poured out every ounce of his life for the good of the Church. Perhaps retirement can be seen in that light. (Look at Wonderment and Reason above.)
But honestly, is avoiding martyrdom a kind of martyrdom, because one denies himself the glory of being martyred? If so, then avoiding martyrdom is the higher thing!
And the reason I think of this is the same reason I oppose so-called "death with dignity" legislation. The very existence of such a law is pressure to exercise it, and the first step in it becoming a duty rather than a mere right to kill oneself when one's suffering is too costly and too distressful for one's loved ones.
I think it's a bad decision. But what does God think?