In a long, thoughtful, and–this is the writer’s perpetual habit–gorgeously written piece, Jody Bottum argues over at the Weekly Standard that Benedict XVI has just made a terrible mistake.
After this, how will any of his successors feel able to do what John Paul II did, failing physically in the full view of the public—preaching one last homily with his death? Benedict speaks of the unique pressures of “today’s world,” which he insists require a younger man’s strength of mind and body. But today’s world is unique only because we say it is. Human life remains as it was, our aging and our deaths what they always were.
In other words, the modern world doesn’t really need to see in the pope a model of competent administration, nice as that would be. It does need, however, a public reminder that we are not incapacitated as human beings when we age and prepare to die. We are not to be tucked away or compelled by moral pressure to remove our lives and deaths from public view. The older vision of life is the more complete one, and in today’s world, perhaps uniquely, we are in special need of remembering that.
The doctrine of papal infallibility, be it noted, holds that the Holy Spirit prevents a pope from error only when he pronounces, very formally, and in compliance with a long series of strict conditions, on matters of faith and morals, and not–very emphatically not–that no pope will ever make a mistake. Even the most devout Catholic (and Jody is plenty devout) thus remains entirely at liberty to consider Benedict’s decision last week, and…wonder.
As, I confess, do I.