The reaction most expressed at Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papacy is shock, and certainly surprise. Nobody saw it coming.
But in the case of many of us who are strong supporters of his doctrinal orthodoxy and his strong stands against moral crimes such as abortion, contraception, and same-sex “marriage,” the initial reaction is disappointment.
When Benedict became pope on April 19, 2005, I called it too good to be true. As an advisor to Pope John Paul II who thought in sync with him, with his deep roots in Church tradition, the inerrancy of Church doctrine and his refusal to compromise on any article of faith or morals, we believed we had a continuation of the leadership of John Paul II. We could not have been happier. Now we are sad and confused.
I wrote at the time, “Here is a humble, welcoming pastor. As second to the Pope in overseeing doctrine, he became synonymous among Catholics with the Church’s strictest factions, and earned the nickname, ‘God’s Rottweiler.’ ”
We may not have liked the word, but we were delighted with the image of a fierce fighter for Catholic tradition. At the time, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo of Colombia called Benedict “a follower and servant of the late Pope” who was “a simple man, serene, cordial, kind and with a fine sense of humor.”
This was the man who booted Fr. Charles Curran out of Catholic University of America for encouraging dissent, crippled Latin America’s “Liberation Theology” for its alleged Marxism and came down hard on the use of “inclusive” language. We loved him.
He was also a great teacher, was vitally concerned with evangelization, and whatever he did he did it out of love for Jesus Christ. We believed him.
But we ended our tribute with the question, “Who knows what the Holy Spirit has in store?”
Now we know: eight years of desperately hard work, and an early retirement. And disappointing as it may be to many of us, it is certainly the right decision.
The killing schedule of trips and talks and stressful conditions would wear out a much younger man. And the Church today in a pagan world needs a younger man with more energy to carry the load.
Most important, perhaps, is the things Benedict XVI will do in his retirement. The man is a writer, a man of great genius and in an age and at a time when we desperately need education in right thinking and right behavior. We can expect much from a retired Pope.
We will be ready for the wisdom of “God’s Rottweiler” in his retirement.