Modern pressures - including the heightened scrutiny of leaders made possible through social media - likely contributed to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to retire when so many before him have died on the job, Wollongong Catholic Bishop Peter Ingham says.
Benedict’s retirement will make him the first pontiff to resign in six centuries of Roman Catholic history.
Bishop Ingham believes the break with tradition is a sign of the times.
‘‘Because of social media, everybody’s observed a lot more closely than they were before. That applies to all leaders really, so that’s an extra pressure,’’ Bishop Ingham said.
‘‘Plus the workload ... it requires a lot of stamina.
‘‘Previous Pope John Paul II was in a really bad way for the last seven, eight, nine months of his life, and people were saying he ought to resign.
‘‘Benedict would have been close to John Paul in that period and he would have said, ‘I don’t want that to happen again’.’’
Bishop Ingham said Benedict’s decision was admirable and responsible.
‘‘He’s obviously someone who’s looking out for the welfare of the church [and] not clinging to power. He’s saying, ‘the church needs better leadership than I am able to give’. I think that’s a very courageous and honourable thing to do.’’
Benedict 85, had been showing some signs of age in recent months but the extent of his ill health has not been revealed to the outside world.
On Monday, during a routine meeting to discuss the canonisation of three potential saints, he dropped his retirement bombshell, saying: ‘‘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 leading the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.
“In today’s world,” Benedict said, in Latin, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
He will retire on February 28.
On the question of his successor, Bishop Ingham said the Roman cardinal, Gianfranco Ravasi, ‘‘had a lot to offer’’.
‘‘He has a very good sense of our world and the culture of the world. I’ve met him a few times and he’s quite impressive.’’ Bishop Ingham said Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was well known in Rome, but was an ‘‘unlikely’’ successor.
‘‘Sometimes they might need someone who’s not in the European axis, but in another sense we’re a bit removed and the Pope needs to be a good linguist ... he needs to speak several languages.’’