Joseph Ratzinger has been hailed for his humility in reminding us all of his human frailty. But his retirement message should not be misconstrued as reducing the Papacy to CEO status.
In public discourse, the secular logic is seductive:
Bravo to the man who finally concedes that this colossal job of being the shepherd over 1.3 billion Catholics belongs to a younger candidate "due to an advanced age". It is absurd that this "top job" be offered to a person aged 78, which is 13 years after most men retire.
When popes are so old, they are naturally old fashioned. By his own admission, Pope Benedict XVI shaped a new job description that this person must "govern … in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes", requiring "strength of mind and body".
This sets a positive papal precedent that the position is for a limited tenure, pending regular "fitness" checks, just like any other senior post. It is no longer a life sentence, but a human job like any CEO that has finally come home to the fold.
Age does not always equate to ability — we have seen leaders such as John Howard, who was still prime minister at age 68, outpace much younger leaders who had run out of puff. It is also flawed logic to assume that conservatism increases with age.
The papacy is not a job, it is Petrine — a succession to the apostle Peter. In his brief retirement speech, Benedict refers to Saint Peter on three occasions. To "govern the bark of Saint Peter" and the "See of Saint Peter" may indeed be a hard act to follow.
This is an apt coincidence; Peter denied knowing his master Jesus three times after the arrest, but then affirmed his love for Jesus three times after the resurrection by way of reconciliation.
Popes wear the Fisherman’s Ring as a reminder of Peter’s profession before following Jesus. As the "fisher of men", the Pope casts nets to catch people and bring them to the Gospel. CEOs may be expected to market and grow the "followers" of their company, but not to convert people to a death defying faith.
Peter was far from perfect and renowned for his weaknesses. He failed to stay awake when his master agonised alone before being arrested. He failed to stand by his master during the persecution, trial and crucifixion.
Given this cowardly character, Popes should not be afraid to face their own failings in the shadow of their first forefather. However, CEOs displaying such disloyalty are normally dismissed or disciplined, not given an opportunity for forgiveness and salvation like Peter.
Peter was anointed for his honesty and his rock solid faith when Jesus announced "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven". CEOs are given a limited tenure with regular reviews depending on their ability to achieve key performance indicators. They are not given eternal shares in the company and promises of a place in paradise.
Peter was the first apostle to perform a miracle after the resurrection. After devoting the rest of his life to preaching and converting, and casting his new net out far and wide, Peter was imprisoned, persecuted and crucified upside down because he was "not worthy" to die like his master. CEOs are normally protected and indemnified by Pty Ltd status and cannot normally be personally prosecuted.
This does not mean that the Petrine Ministry and the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) needs to be taken literally by popes like stations of the cross. But it does mean that the job description of the "papal primacy" must honor the "apostolic primacy" of Peter.
Popes do not need to be persecuted, imprisoned or crucified. But they do need to rise above the mortal call of duty, and step aside when they morally feel that what they can offer is "not worthy" of the Petrine Ministry. As Pope Benedict put it: "my strengths … are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry". Like Peter who self censored himself for his weaknesses, Benedict also humbled himself to "ask pardon for all my defects".
So before we strip down the Papacy to a modern day CEO, this needs to be juxtaposed against the modern meaning of a Petrine Ministry. It cannot be compared with a CEO, president or monarch.
Pope Benedict is not pathing the way for a more tenuous papal seat. Instead, he is actually fulfilling and following the way of Peter.
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