Those pining for some kind of “reinvention” or “modernization” of the Roman Catholic Church with the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI most assuredly will be disappointed. After all, the College of Cardinals, now at nearly its full complement, is dominated by Benedict appointees who share his conservative orthodoxy.
We don't note that as any kind of pejorative. It is a fact. And it's one that the next pontiff must use to his and the Catholic Church's benefit.
Benedict, who turns 86 in April, announced on Monday that he will end his papacy, the church's 265th, on Feb. 28. The pontiff cited his failing health. And for that, he should have the faithful's gratitude. For he apparently decided to spare his flock the kind of long, slow and painful-to-watch demise of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
But surely this act, one with precedence (though 598 years ago), is an act of humility in more ways than one. The Catholic Church has been rocked by a number of scandals, the most serious being the sexual abuse cases. And some have argued that many of the church's failures to act can be traced directly to Benedict's prior role when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he oversaw the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was responsible for dealing with abuse cases.
To be fair, Benedict's papacy dealt forthrightly with the pedophilia scandal. But it is only with a new pope, with no baggage from this scandal, that true healing can begin and be achieved.
That said, Benedict's pontificate, in an era of what he called “the dictatorship of relativism,” indeed leaves a legacy of fealty to one of today's rarest commodities — principle.
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