I would be a terrible dramaturg if I didn’t post about Pope Benedict XVI’s groundbreaking decision to retire (we even talked about it briefly in class today). Its impact on the public’s perception of leadership, politics, and in this case, religion, is much more resounding than the two retirements I blogged about last weekend, so it’s something of a shame that I didn’t just wait a tad bit longer to commentate on those stories.
But writing Benedict his own, belated blog post gives me the chance to talk in more detail about some topics I glazed over in my last commentary. Namely: How does a leader’s mental and physical health affect his position? How does it impact the public’s perception of him or her? And how self aware should a leader be? Is Benedict to be admired for admitting his shortcomings and passing his title to someone more capable? Or will breaking a 600-year-old tradition have more of a negative than positive impact? So in an attempt to streamline all the Lear-Pope connections I could make, here are some bullet points:
- The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. His abdication was an effort to end the “Great Western Schism,” a rivalry over the papal throne. In other words, the last time a pope stepped down was for political reasons. And yes, those reasons were about a DIVISION, a power-struggle that antagonized groups of individuals. For centuries since, the papacy was considered a life-long commitment, regardless of sickness, infirmity or mental instability. Just imagine how many popes since then were probably unfit for their position…
- Benedict was fitted with a pacemaker 10 years ago while he was still a close advisor for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The media pounced on this revelation, and there are blogs and responses galore about how it was evidence that he was already unhealthy at the start of his papacy. But John Paul had his share of problems as well. He suffered from Parkinsons and a series of other ailments that left him debilitated during his last, ailing years. Some speculate that working with John Paul so closely and observing his mental and physical deterioration influenced Benedict’s decision to let go.
- There wasn’t any specific ailment given as reasoning for his resignation. Instead, Benedict simply said the following:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
So Benedict is going to unburdened crawl toward death, but he emphasizes that his decision is for the good of the church, not for his own benefit. Lear, on the other hand, does admit to shaking all “cares and ages” and “conferring them on younger strengths,” but it’s dubitable how sincere this act of humility is.
- What now? Vatican spokesmen have reported that Benedict will be absolved of any responsibilities, whether administrative or otherwise. Benedict said he intends “to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” Quite a contrast to Lear’s retirement ideal, a permanent vacation of feasts and hunting at his daughters’ expenses.
And finally, it’s worth noting what the public’s reactions have been to the Pope’s resignation. John Paul II was showered with praise after his death, and he’s well on his way to sainthood. And it’s a widely-shared ideal that when a person dies, suddenly all misgivings are forgotten and he or she is loved by everyone (just look at Michael Jackson. No offense, of course). But how do we react when a leader retires? Is he or she still lauded and praised? Or do we consider it an act of weakness? Looking over the Catholic Review website, blogs and comments are mixed; some consider it a breach in tradition, others are using this moment as a chance to disapprove of papal term, and still others hold him in admiration for his decision.
In other news, I sat in on my first rehearsal last night, and although we have quite a ways to go, here’s a message for anyone who has King Lear written in her planner: You’re going to be in for a treat.