Even when the one favoured to be elected the new pope prior to the conclave actually is elected, it is still a surprise. That’s how it was when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen almost eight years ago. As often as not, however, the choice is a bolt out of the blue – Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1958, Albino Luciani and Karol Wojtyla in 1978.
A surprise or not, Ratzinger came with a ferocious reputation after 23 years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a period in which the CDF tried to restore theological order in the Church after the convulsions that followed the Second Vatican Council.
Now that Pope Benedict XVI has tendered his resignation, some of those in the mainstream media who have no love for the Catholic Church no matter who is the pope have cast him as a polarizing figure who attempted to drag the Church back to roughly the 15th century.
He was a traditionalist, penned one writer at the National Post. Why? Because he opposes moral relativism. As if there would someday be a pope who says, “If it feels good, do it”!
He quit because he realized he no longer had total control of the Church, wrote someone at Der Spiegel. Good grief! Just when has any pope had total control of the Church?
His resignation is intended to unite a divided Church, wrote another. Sigh! Certainly there is a wide spectrum of opinion in the Church. But things were a lot more rowdy 30 or 40 years ago.
Any objective observer would have to say that when Joseph Ratzinger was put on display for the whole world to watch on a daily basis, he was much less polarizing than anyone anticipated. Yes, his basic inclination is towards traditionalism. Yes, he made some missteps.
What we have seen, however, for the past eight years is a man of uncommon humility. One of the most learned people in the world, Pope Benedict never flouted his intelligence and knowledge. He was consistently a symbol and an instrument of unity, not division.
The pope resigned when his in-box was still full. If he was as power mad as some imply, he would have hung on to the bitter end, changing the Church to fit his agenda and ensuring that no one could undo what he did.
Pope Benedict was like most of the popes who came before him — a pastor who didn’t want the job but accepted it because he knows God is in charge and he would be God’s instrument.
There is something called sanctity. Even when the world is staring straight at sanctity, the world can fail to perceive it. The world thinks everything is about power — getting power, holding on to it and using it for your advantage.
Often, power is the only game in town. Pope Benedict showed us that that is not always the case. He gave us the witness of humility. Because of that witness, we have all been blessed.