Can the Catholic Church outgrow the pope’s antediluvian philosophy?

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Ash Wednesday service at the St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 13, 2013, in Vatican City, Vatican. Benedict's announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28 took many by surprise, but the focus has since turned to who will be his successor as pope.
Credit: Franco Origlia

OWL’S HEAD, Maine — Pope Benedict's unexpected decision to retire was — we are told — one for the history books. The last time a pope had done such a thing was 600 years ago, in 1415; the same year, coincidentally, England's Henry V, unburdened by Falstaff, was victorious with his longbows at the battle of Agincourt.

And while Benedict is certainly the antithesis of Falstaff, one wonders if the Catholic Church can as successfully outgrow Benedict's antediluvian philosophy as Prince Hal could distance himself from his fat friend.

And if his retirement wasn't newsworthy enough, Pope Benedict's revelation that he planned to spend his sunset years in a refurbished facility originally designed for nuns gave one even greater pause. Was this perhaps the pope's offhanded nod to Hamlet or an example of his sense of the absurd?

Here's the fellow who disrespected American nuns for being too concerned about the poor and downtrodden, spending his last days holed up in the home that once was the residence of their Italian cousins. He apparently plans to pass his golden years reading and praying, which seems appropriate enough for the first person to be in this position in six centuries. If he substituted golf for praying, he'd be a fine fit for Florida.

But even if the pope chose to live out his retirement with pedophilic priests or their protector bishops, the real focus would still be on who will replace him.

Pope Benedict is out of touch with today's world. Benedict handpicked many in the College of Cardinals who will choose his successor. As a group, the cardinals are not attuned to the modern world.

To put a political spin on it, the cardinals are to the Catholic Church, at least the American version, as the Tea Party is to the Republicans. The Catholic Church seems destined to remain in the 19th century. But considering all the problems we have in the 21st century, maybe they're on to something.

Mac Deford is retired after a career as a foreign service officer, an international banker, and a museum director. He lives at Owls Head, Maine, and still travels frequently to the Middle East.

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