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Prior to the death of John Paul II there was a view that he should resign or retire on health grounds. His last testament reveals he wondered too. Some urged from pity, others worried about his capacity, some saw it as an organisational matter and some within the Catholic Church thought a change would relax strictures of Church teachings in their favour.
Advocates of such proposals fail to understand that the Pope's role is a spiritual one. To the orthodox Catholic, a Pope is the continuing representative of Christ and thus is charged with responsibility for the preservation of Christ's teaching. The Church claims a Pope is infallible only in matters of faith and morals. His judgements in prudential matters could be as fallible as those of any leader.
A Pope has, by dint of his office, Christ as his spiritual and actual role- model. Christ, who, for mankind, bore misunderstanding, ostracism, humiliation, suffering, and, obedient to the divine plan, died. As a corollary, popes, through the ages, have not had a pleasant time, even the worst among them. It is a rare pope who did not experience misunderstanding, division and disobedience within the Church, persecution, slander, imprisonment, maltreatment, exile, torture, martyrdom, or attempts upon his life.
For all that, the Church they led, endured as Christ promised it would, teaching the absolutes that Christ directed.
Perhaps John Paul II suffered too publicly for modern sensitivities. Well aware of the example he was giving, he bore illness and incapacity publicly but continued, as he saw it, the mission of Christ on earth. John Paul II could not depart from the teachings of Christ to please his critics, and no future Pope can either.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 18 No 5 (June 2005), p. 14
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