Two and a half weeks ago, around 6:15 am EST, drinking coffee and figuring I ought to wake up some family, flip channels and WHAM-O! Pope Benedict XVI had announced his resignation.
The first voluntary such act since Celestine V in 1294.
Now, I probably should've blogged about that alone, but that moment has passed so now it's "who will be pope next." Along with the rest of the known blogosphere, I watch what John Allen says.
Now the entire world's caught up in this whole "we get to have a new pope while the old pope's still alive!" shtick...some damning the Church for not changing, some for changing too much, etc. And, of course, it's not a party until some parts of the American Catholic Church decide to contribute their own two cents. Usually not for the best, as R. R. Reno points out. There are others who help counterbalance some of the fluff. But, really, Sonia Sotomayor? A nun? I'm no way criticizing the faith of Justice Sotomayor or any religious sister, but really--this is not helping.
Then there are columns like Vince Miller's and Nancy Dallavalle's. These voices are particularly problematic, because, quite frankly, Vince and Nancy should know better. 1) It is disingenuous to laud, as Vince does, Benedict's 'humility' for resigning the papal office (and 'breaking with the modern papacy since Pius IX')--but then selectively read Benedict's encyclical tradition when it suits one's political purposes. 2) It is equally problematic to presume that "all bets are off" because of the (admittedly unforeseen) papal resignation. As if the resignation thus entails a wholesale shift to embrace the social-political agenda of the American left.
Three words: Ain't.gonna.happen.
That being said, digging through Allen's columns indicates that at least some papabili take a moderate, and some cases 'progressive', stance on clerical celibacy. And the cardinal electors seem quite aware of the Church's need to appoint a leader who, among other herculean tasks, remains aware of the Church's growth in Africa, Asia, and South America. So the 'liberals' out there aren't completely off the grid. However, even I recognize that the Church's long-standing talks with the Orthodox churches would be thoroughly undone with the ordination of women. I know it's not everybody's favorite text, but hasn't anybody heard of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis??? Furthermore, no, "Benedict XVI" doesn't sound passe already; in fact, he'll retain the title. And what if Benedict's successor chooses the path of John Paul II instead--one of extenuated, but freely chosen, suffering? Which is the 'tradition' here? Which is the passing fad? It's really too early to say, but both papal trajectories have 1) a grounding in their actions being freely chosen; and 2) a grounding in the institutional history of the office itself; just because it's been 719 years since the last voluntary resignation doesn't mean Benedict couldn't resign. So what if nobody had recently? Isn't he free to do so-without bringing everything else into question?
Prediction: In the months that follow, regardless of successor, Benedict's pontificate and his resignation will come to be viewed as an intellectual and theological success. Seemingly alone in the Vatican, Benedict refused to join the celebration of a now-discredited priest. His writings take a similarly courageous, if yet unappreciated, trajectory. While Benedict spends his remaining life praying quietly inside the Vatican walls, the rest of us--including his successor--will reap the benefits of what he's sown.