Nobody expects the Papal resignation

Posted by Sappho on March 1st, 2013 filed in Anglican Communion News, Catholic Church News

So we are now officially Popeless, after the unprecedented-for-centuries event of the Pope resigning rather than waiting to die.

Not long before that, the Anglican Communion went through the very much precedented (though surprisingly early) event of the Archbishop of Canterbury resigning, and seeing his place taken by a new Archbishop. In fact, as has been the case for all Archbishops that I can recently remember, he was replaced by an Archbishop who could be said to represent a different faction in the church. This probably won’t happen with the Pope, who appointed most of the cardinals who will vote on his successor, but it’s common in the Anglican Communion, with theologically liberal Runcie being replaced by evangelical Carey, who was replaced in turn by theologically liberal Rowan Williams, who was replaced in turn by Justin Welby.

If the circumstances of their resignation and the appointment of their successors differ, there are some parallels between the tenures of Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI.

  1. Rowan Williams took office amid much alarmed commentary about his moral theology, as represented by his essay “The Body’s Grace,” which some considered way too accepting of homosexuality. Benedict took office amid criticism of his conservatism, and concern that “God’s Rottweiler” would crack down too hard on liberal views within the church. Both came in as controversial figures, with critics as well as supported.
  2. Both were pastor-scholars, well versed in theology.
  3. Both came to head churches in crisis, though the nature of the crisis has been different (Williams faced a church divided along global lines over homosexuality, while Benedict faced a church reeling from scandals over the coverup of priests’ sexual abuse of children).
  4. Neither seems to have really delivered on the worst fears of his critics. Rowan Williams presumably hasn’t changed his own views on homosexuality, but as Archbishop he strove to hold the Anglican Communion together any way he could rather that to push his own beliefs, aiming to build some sort of compromise, a Henry Clay of the Anglican Communion. And, if the Catholic Church hasn’t gotten any more liberal under Benedict XVI, neither has it become any more averse to liberal views; it has simply held the line on all the things (contraception, celibacy of priests, homosexuality, ordination of women) that many American Catholics would like to see change, but that one didn’t really expect to see change any time in the near future.
  5. Both leave churches still embroiled in the particular crises in which they found them. Let us pray for their successors.

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