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The pope, aside from being the vicar of Christ and the bishop of Rome, has many other titles -- befitting him as head of a sovereign, independent state, which is the Vatican, and as the ultimate authority of a religious organization, which is Roman Catholicism. These temporal and spiritual designations proclaim both his religious clout and his political influence. For some people, however, the pope is a living testament to the pomp and pageantry of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church is hierarchal, thrives in pomposity and has an autocratic form of governance. Power rests on St. Peter's chair and its moral authority is further reinforced by the doctrine of the "infallibility of the pope" -- the Catholic dictum that the pope can never be wrong with regard to faith and morals. For the incumbent supreme pontiff to give up these appurtenances of power and authority is a mystery that needs to be delved further.
Only in two instances over the last seven centuries has the pope abdicated his throne. The last one, which ended the Great Schism, was in 1415 when Pope Gregory XII made the supreme sacrifice and voluntarily surrendered his ecclesiastical authority just to preserve unity. In both instances, however, Roman Catholicism ceased to be one, holy and universal -- three of the supposed four attributes of the true church. This dark age in church history highlighted struggles for power in the papacy when some dirty linens were unveiled in public during the Avignon papacy from 1309 to 1376 -- the church era when seven popes transferred residence from Rome to Avignon, France. This anomaly in the Petrine ministry was the weakest link in its otherwise glorious and uninterrupted history.
The papacy is not just a temporal office, like the CEO of any business organization or head of a state. It is sacred and full of symbolism, especially on the continuity of the Petrine ministry. Although nothing in canon law prohibits popes from resigning or quitting for whatever reasons, the inherent authority, power and spiritual glory of the papacy are meant to last until death. Death should be the only "intervener" or "separator" between papal successions. It is an assumption or a given that God guides anybody with delegated authority in times when the pope cannot perform his ecclesiastical functions because of any illness or infirmity. Pope John Paul II was not too healthy in his twilight years and should have been "stressed" out as one of the longest-reigning popes. Yet he trudged on and allowed the normal, necrological intervention. St. Peter, the first pope, bore the "burdens" of the sacred office until his death by "inverse crucifixion." It is unthinkable or awkward to have two living popes in our midst. At any given time, there should only be one vicar of Christ. It is meant to be that way and tradition is the essence of Roman Catholicism.
Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered as a good pope, as far as doctrinal matters are concerned. I am a highly traditional Roman Catholic and I like his stand against the doctrine of "relativism" and too much liberalization in the church spawned by the Second Vatican Council. It is unfortunate that his announcement to resign came on the heels of corruption issues in the church hierarchy and the alleged cover-up of sexual abuses committed by some priests. This papal maneuver, unprecedented in the last 600 years, may have been precipitated by these issues and some events in recent church history. The church is the people and it is in a bit of turmoil right now. But the gates of hell, as Christ promised, shall not prevail against it.
I am a chess aficionado and one of my favorite openings, when playing white, is the king's gambit or sacrifice. White sacrifices a piece for positional advantage later. It seems that it is what the pope is doing right now.
Manuel D. Fuderanan is an engineer with the city of Bakersfield. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.