Demystifying the Papacy
According to an interview Rowan Williams gave to Vatican Radio, Pope Benedict’s retirement did not come as a surprise. Bishop Rowan says that in their last conversation he sensed that the Pope was beginning to think ‘Is it possible to carr y on with a good conscience?’ The bishop revealed that he had given the Pope advanced warning of his own resignation and offered his reflections on the first papal resignation for 600 years, arguing that it ‘demystifies the papacy’. “The pope is not like a king who goes on to the end,” he said. “The ministry of service that the Bishop of Rome exercises is just that, a ministry of service and therefore it is reasonable to ask if there is a moment when somebody else should take the baton in hand.” As Rowan Williams outlined the matter, there could well be ecumenical implications in the Pope’s actions if it leads to a return to ‘the primitive position of the Bishop of Rome as the servant of the unity of the Church, of the bishop who convenes, mediates between and manages the fellowship of bishops’, what he called a ‘slightly more functional, slightly less theologically top heavy picture’.
Bishop Rowan spoke warmly of Pope Benedict but many have been less complimentary, although few as gone as far as Joseph Bottun, formerly editor of the conservative monthly First Things, who wrote in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard that as far as governance is concerned Benedict was ‘as bad as a pope has been in 200 years’.