The Pope’s resignation: Will the Church move towards progressive Christianity?

Gossip is also rife that there could be further disclosures about the reluctance or inability of the hierarchy to properly address child abuse

Share
Related Topics

It’s an understatement to say that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has certainly surprised and intrigued many people, irrespective of their religious affiliation or lack of it.

As an international figure, moral commentator and leading one of the world’s biggest multi-national organisations of 1.2 billion members, the Pope commands attention if not sympathy and support. Coming as his announcement does, a couple of days before Ash Wednesday, there is already a joke circulating about what the Pope is giving up for Lent.

A friend commented that, as the first Pope in 600 years to be in a position to influence the choice of successor, he will have plenty of temptation. Another friend in the Church who monitors these things advises that although he himself will not be part of the Conclave that elects, he has personally created 67 of the 117 members who will.

Some people are puzzled by the motive of the Pope’s resignation. Has he taken advice from the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury that some problems just won’t go away? Muses one fellow Vicar.

It is not a typical papal action and there is no age limit on the holder of the See of Rome. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. He resigned in order to end a schism caused by rival popes in troubled times. Benedict XVI described his reasons in terms of the pressures on him:

“…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”.

This is an unusual statement as Church leaders usually trumpet their incapacity, quoting for example 2 Corinthians 4.7, suggesting that they are merely frail clay pots whose power is divine and not human.

The gossip is rife, therefore, that there could be other reasons, such as further disclosures about the reluctance or inability of the hierarchy to properly address child abuse. David Gibson has said, “"Failure to hold members of the hierarchy responsible is really going to be the lasting legacy of this pope in most people's minds."

Most colleagues of mine committed to progressive Christianity see Benedict XVI as having failed to really address the contemporary world and build on the modernising impetus and legacy of Vatican II.

On the fifth anniversary of his election as Pope, Hans Kung wrote an open letter to the Pope. Both of them were former colleagues at the University of Tubingen and the youngest theologians at Vatican II. Kung described his profound concern that the Catholic Church, “…now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation”.

Kung’s view of Benedict XVI is that:

“When it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken”. Kung lists a rosary of failed opportunities: rapprochement with the Protestant churches, long term reconciliation with Jews, real dialogue with Muslims, reconciliation with colonised indigenous peoples in Latin America, permission for Africans to use birth control, real dialogue with the scientific world, making the spirit of Vatican II the compass for the whole Catholic Church, rather adding qualifications to the conciliar texts and repeatedly taking a stand against it, though it is a supreme authority.

Kung speaks for many progressive Christians in all churches who agree that these form the legacy of God’s Rottweiler, the enforcer of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and who share his disillusionment.

Ian Stubbs is Vicar of Glossop Parish Church in Derbyshire

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific