Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Remembering Benedict As a Great Pope

The New York Times ran a column this past week asking the question about whether or not Benedict XVI will still be infallible when he retires.

The answer, of course, is no! Only the reigning pontiff is infallible and only when he makes a definitive statement about faith or morals.

In fact, the Holy Father makes infallible statements very infrequently. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption – that the Blessed Mother was raised body and soul into heaven when her time on earth came to an end. In 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception – that Mary was free from the stain of sin throughout her entire life.

There’s a lot being said about Pope Benedict as the final days of his papacy wind down. On Feb. 28, at 8 p.m., his tenure as Holy Father comes to an end. He says he no longer has the strength and energy to devote to the position. It seems a fair and logical statement when you consider the demands put on a pope and one who is 85 years of age.

Pope Benedict is to be admired for acting on this conviction, the first time in modern history that a pope has done so. He feels the Church deserves more than he can give, and he has moved to make that happen.

Most of us grew up with the idea that the pope had to die in office. In fact, there is nothing in Church law that says so. Benedict XVI has introduced a very modern idea – retirement – to an institution that is used to doing things the way they always have. After all, bishops retire at the age of 75, and cardinals cannot vote for the next pope after they reach the age of 80. Maybe the Church should consider a proper retirement age for a pope.

Whoever ascends to the Chair of Peter will have plenty of work to do. There is the not-so-easy task of overseeing the workings of the Vatican, the demands of governing a city-state and the rigors of papal trips – the first of which probably will be the journey to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July.

Everyone plays the guessing game of who will be the next pope. It’s a lot of fun to speculate, but the Holy Spirit has a way of throwing surprises at us. No one suspected Karol Wojtyla would become John Paul II in 1978! Many of us thought Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) was too old in 2005.

But Benedict XVI turned out to be a pleasant surprise to the world. He came into the role with a reputation for being a strict enforcer of the faith as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and turned his image upside down when he showed himself to be a man of gentleness and love. His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, in 2005 was a beautiful treatise on love being the foundation of the Christian faith. His second letter to the world, Spe Salvi, was a homily on hope to a world that appears so often to be desperate and forlorn. He had been working on another encyclical on faith during this Year of Faith, but it will go into history as the unfinished missive of a great scholar and teacher.

We will miss Pope Benedict as he promises to live out his days hidden from the world, praying for the Church. There have been many things written this week about his legacy, some not too flattering! I prefer to remember him as a man who rose to the occasion, a great intellect and writer, a kind man with a twinkle in his eyes and great affection his heart. I believe he was a great pope!