Pope Benedict’s resignation can be viewed as a positive development for Catholics seeking church reform. Even those who disagree with many of Benedict’s theological views and actions, readily recognize and praise his essential goodness as a virtuous person. Benedict has served Christ long and faithfully with years of hard and difficult work. He deserves his accolades.
Benedict’s unprecedented announcement is in itself an edifying teaching act that will leave its mark in history. The pope stresses the primacy of conscience in determining his decision. Prayer guided his exercise of prudence. Benedict’s authentic humility is revealed when he asks “pardon for his defects” and gives thanks his brothers for their “love and work.” He shows an ecumenical spirit when he refers to “the Petrine ministry” as a “spiritual work” serving the Supreme Pastor, Jesus Christ. The pope must truly serve and never cling to power and status.
It is also a progressive moment when Benedict states that his service in the papal office can be usefully evaluated in its effectiveness. Evangelical criticism of leaders is validated. Moreover, in the unprecedented act of resigning the pope accepts that his term of office should have a limit. Term limits and the election of leaders are key requirements for collegial participation and church reform. Would that women and the laity would be taking part in the coming election. Yet Vatican II reformers can take heart. The pope’s act of conscience reminds us once again that God is a God of surprises.