A Church of Different Speeds

The pope’s resignation has broken with the traditions of Roman centralism. The Catholic Church is moving towards a more democratic era.

The pope has resigned. He will be eulogized in history books as the German interim pope. He has demystified the highest office of the Catholic Church, he has stripped the papacy of its divine aura. Imagine the situation – which will soon become reality – of having two popes in Rome, one retired and the other one officiating. Suddenly, the papacy will seem less divine and more worldly than in past centuries.

The guiding star of the Catholic Church, the papacy, has dimmed considerably. The step taken by Joseph Ratzinger on February 11th in the year of the Lord 2013 will provide guidance to future popes as well. Newly emerging questions hint at the shifting nature of the Church’s highest office: Will the emeritus pope have access to a bodyguard, to a personal office, to a driver? When he dies, will he be buried with full papal honors? Will church bells around the world ring in his memory? Will he help to elect his successor? Or will he supervise the election and forsake his own vote? How will he be addressed in the future? “His Retired Holiness”?

Benedict’s resignation opens the doors to further reforms of the Catholic Church and disproves critics who regarded him as too steadfast. The most frequent argument invoked against reforms of the Catholic Church goes like this: ‘Of course we can change one thing or another. But who would dare to challenge traditions that have survived for millennia?’ That argument has suddenly become less persuasive.