(RNS) – If I had a dollar for every story I saw about the Pope’s resignation, I could take a trip to Rome to watch the Pope at work.
Why are these stories so popular with journalists?
First, the stories are easy to write: Just mention the latest whispers from anonymous Roman clergy who have no real information but love to gossip. Add quotes from Italian journalists whose editors are not as strict in demanding evidence as American editors. Quickly!
There are, of course, good Italian journalists, but some lack basic journalistic ethics. John Thavis, the former head of the office for the Catholic News Service, described how an Italian journalist in 2013 decided to have fun writing a completely fictional story about how cardinals viewed Cardinal Sean O’Malley as a candidate for pope.
This story was understood by other media, with the result that The Boston Globe sent a team of journalists to cover the conclave. The media coverage made O’Malley so visible that a survey found that he was the first choice of ordinary people in Rome. In Capuchin custom, he reminded them of Padre Pio, the popular Italian saint.
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A second reason these stories are multiplying is that ordinary readers are eating them. We have an appetite for rumors and gossip about celebrities. Publishers know this and give us what we want.
Finally, every reporter is afraid of losing a story that is ultimately true. Most reporters have lost sight of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and do not want to be drawn back. How do you explain to your publisher why you missed this story?
If the pope resigns, I will end up looking like a fool writing this column.
However, I am willing to go out and say it: The pope is not going to resign.
It is true that Benedict’s resignation facilitated the resignation of every subsequent Pope. It has always been possible under normal law – in fact historians report that about 10 popes have resigned during the church’s 2,000-year history. It had just been so long since his last resignation that many considered it impossible.
Pope Paul VI, for example, said paternity could not be relinquished. He also feared that he would set a precedent that would put future popes under pressure to resign. Do we see it today?
What made resignation not only possible but necessary is modern medicine, which can keep the body alive much longer than is physically and mentally possible for a person to function as a pope.
Even before resigning, Benedict said: “If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and mentally fit to perform the duties of his office, then he has the right and, under certain conditions, also the obligation to resign. ”
Francis shares the same view. He feels that his election was a clear sign that God wanted him to become Pope and he can not set aside this task unless he becomes incapable of fulfilling his papal duties.
As Francis told Brazilian bishops who recently visited the Vatican, “I want to live my mission as long as God allows me and that is it.”
The pope has a lot of unfinished business and I do not see him leaving. Some of his reforms are just beginning. And once he launches a global synod process, he will not let anyone else finish.
It is clear that the pope is now able to fulfill the most important duties of the papacy. Yes, he has a bad knee and uses a wheelchair, but there is no indication that he has a mental disability. He can think and speak clearly, meet people and can make wise decisions.
Pope Francis has been suffering from an ugly knee for some time, but he refused to use a cane even though it hurt a lot. That was silly on his part. Everyone around him had to tell him to use a cane. Instead, he continued to walk on his bad knee until he was forced into a wheelchair.
If he was still subject to Jesuit obedience, his Jesuit boss and health prefect would have told him to follow his doctor’s instructions and use a cane. Whether his stay on his knee will now allow him to heal on his own or whether he will need surgery remains to be seen.
What is clear is that even if he had to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he could perform his basic papal duties as long as his mind remains clear. Remember, the United States had a president who used a wheelchair to get us out of the Great Depression and into World War II.
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In our day, to imply that the pope can not continue his work in his current state shows that even the pope is not immune to the prejudice that thousands of people with disabilities suffer on a daily basis.
There are thousands of Americans in wheelchairs who do very well in their jobs. Thousands more have bad knees. To say that the Pope must resign means to all these people that their positions are also in danger. Shouldn’t we rather celebrate that there are many jobs that these people can do successfully, including being a pope?