Pastor to his church
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For academic Catholic theologians in the West, the news from the Vatican was momentous. On one hand, there are theological implications to the pope's "resignation" for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. On the other, the conversations about the pope's departure in the media demonstrate a reductive view of religious leadership in the Catholic Church.
Theologically speaking, the pope's announcement bears witness to one of the most important promulgations enshrined in Vatican II's teachings. That promulgation is the commitment to collegiality. Collegiality can be defined as a commitment to collaborative partnership, particularly within the institutional structure and its leadership channels. Benedict's choice to step down from his papal role embodies the best of Vatican II's vision of collegiality. He is of sound mind and body, and although there have been reports that he is unwell, he wishes to responsibly hand over the task of being pastor to the world's Catholics to someone more able. It is important to note that the pope did not resign. He renounced his ministry as the Bishop of Rome, harkening to the fact that the pope cannot "resign." There is no one to resign to. The pope is the supreme head of the Catholic Church and for the past 600 years, no one has renounced their role as pope. In so doing, Benedict acknowledges that the papacy is a role that was "entrusted" to him by his brother Cardinals. No one has a divine right to be pope, or to remain one.
In his speech, the pope asserts that the papal ministry has an essentially "spiritual nature", one that is carried on with words and deeds and with prayer and suffering. This is an astonishing view of religious leadership. Benedict has been perceived by many as one with entrenched and rigid views on Christianity, the Roman Catholic priesthood, sexuality and human reproduction. While this is true, it is equally true that the pope, a theologian, asserts his critiques of secularism, globalisation and economic disparity with the same conviction.