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Benedict's humility; Resignation gives Church an opportunity.

COLUMN: In our opinion

Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he will resign as head of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of February came as a surprise, in spite of the 85-year-old pontiff's age and health issues. After all, it has been centuries since a pope voluntarily stepped down.

Surprise, however, has been one of Benedict's hallmarks. When he was named to succeed Pope John Paul II in April 2005, many observers expected that 78-year-old Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger -- one of the oldest men ever to be elected pope - would be little more than a caretaker.

Instead, Benedict continued to demonstrate the intellectual vigor that has marked his career as a priest, academic, cardinal and longtime head of the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Shortly after taking office, in an address at Rome in June 2005, Benedict identified a "dictatorship of relativism" as the central challenge facing both the Church and humanity in the 21st century, a relativism that "... leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires."

To critics outside Catholicism - and perhaps a few inside it - that message marked Benedict as a reactionary, a man out of step with modern times, and committed to a defense of outmoded and irrelevant pieties.

History is likely to offer a kinder verdict. Benedict's papacy has certainly not been free of controversy, but a close examination of his actions and writings shows a man of great faith and ability, and true humility.

That humility led Benedict to acknowledge in his resignation letter that strength "... has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

The last pope to resign, Gregory XII, did so nearly 600 years ago as part of complex negotiations to end a 40-year schism between popes at Rome and antipopes at Avignon. That event reaffirmed Catholic tradition and unity.

This papal resignation, too, presents the Church with an opportunity. Benedict XVI has defended and strengthened the Church in times that are often hostile to faith and tradition.

Many observers believe the Church may look beyond Europe for its next leader - to Asia, Africa or South America, where it has enjoyed great growth. If so, that next great coming together will have been made possible in part by the confidence, leadership and humility of Pope Benedict XVI.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 12, 2013
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