February 24, 2013
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Benedict’s Choice and the Crisis of the Western Church.
Like most university departments, United Nations bureaucracies, Boy Scout troops and political parties, the Vatican is a hotbed of jealousy, competition and back stabbing.
The best case for Benedict — or indeed any Pope — to resign before he is no longer up to the job is that in the absence of a strong pope the bureaucrats pretty much have the run of the Vatican. With no strong hand to keep them in check, the inmates take over the asylum. This perhaps is one reason why so many senior voices in the Church express reservations about Benedict’s decision and fear the precedent; if popes step down as they age the long reign of the bureaucrats and the cliques will come to a permanent end. Benedict may not be the last pope to see the need to step down when his powers begin to fade; Catholicism like much of western Christianity is in a state of acute crisis today, and however convenient weak popes are for church bureaucrats, the Vatican can’t afford to go on autopilot during the long slow fadeout of an aging pope.
This isn’t just a Catholic crisis. The churches of the so-called Magisterial Reformation are also in trouble: Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed denominations are suffering from the same troubles that afflict the Church of Rome. Many of the problems are familiar elements of the western religious and cultural landscape.