Like everyone else, I was surprised by the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. But apparently unlike many, this announcement did not strike me as extraordinary. Rather, I was surprised to learn how unusual papal resignation has been throughout history.
It is more difficult for me to understand why fewer have resigned than it is to understand why Pope Benedict XVI would do so. The Pope has life tenure in office. But the purpose of life tenure–to guarantee independence–is compatible with voluntary resignation of office. The Petrine office is demanding in many ways. When its current holder freely arrives at the conclusion that he can no longer carry out all the demands of office, it is entirely appropriate for him to resign.