First off, if you came here looking for a eulogy for Pope Benedict, you found the wrong page. I didn't know much about the man, was wary of his life-story, and what little of his theology I encountered I disagreed with.
But that doesn't stop me being deeply saddened by his decision announced yesterday to retire on the grounds that he's no longer fit for the job.
Because it raises in my mind the question of what sort of 'job' being Pope is. Or even whether it's a 'job' at all. I didn't think it was.
I'm the generation who can call up in my memory (for as long as it works) images of a lively, vibrant Pope jetting around the world, rushing down plane steps and kneeling to kiss the ground in far flung parts of the world. And I can equally recall images of a frail old man, draped in red, ermine and gold thread propped up in a chair trying not to nod off. And both seem to me to be valid incarnations of 'Pope'.
I'm really not sure I'm comfortable with the apparent transition of the concept of 'Pope' from something someone is to what they do. It seemed to me that Papacy, like priesthood generally, remained one of the last bastions of recognition of the value of who someone is beyond what they can do.
It turns the church into a giant business (which we all knew it is, but wanted to believe otherwise) where the CEO is stood down because he failed his appraisal and occupational health assessment. It stops it being a family, where Grandpa is still Grandpa even when he's become old and frail and only ever talks about the past. If the Pope is only valued for his output, what hope the rest of us?
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised: I said I didn't like Benedict's backstory. He spent a chunk of his youth absorbing an ideology that decried the weak, disabled, learning disabled and elderly because of their lack of economic value. I suppose I'd hoped he'd moved on from that.
The Church has spent centuries creating a notion of priesthood and papacy as being ontological – about one's very being (Does Benedict suddenly stop being infallible on 1st March?) Now it seems happy to throw all that away in favour of a business model that we need a younger, fitter CEO.
I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist: enough to least wonder if throwing away such a central theological tenet is in fact being done for some deeper reason, some secret that might have come out of Benedict had stayed. And not since the Borgias has a Pope been able to claim he wanted to spend more time with his family, so did some reason for his discrete removal have to be given? We'll never know. We're left with the official story that Being Pope has ceased to be a lifetime committment.
And I have to hold up my hands as a member of a denomination which changes its leader annually (To ensure he or she can't actually do any damage) but respects the Office. (At synod yesterday we were invited to 'Stand for the office of the president' when he didn't have so much as a filofax about him.)
But it leaves me sad. Sad that even my Roman Catholic friends are being pushed down the road of valuing people for their output, for what they can do, what they can produce. Pushed away from a sense of human value being in who we are, regardless of health, fitness and capacity, value based in the belief that each unique human being is made in the image of God and therefore precious.
So goodbye, Benedict. I'm afraid I won't miss you personally. But I'm really sorry you decided to give up 'doing poping' rather than remain and be Pope to the end.