Scholars will, undoubtedly, be discussing this historic day in Catholicism for years to come. While there is not a great deal of scholarship on the papacy by sociologists of religion, we’d be remiss as bloggers to not mention this historic moment.
One of the most clear and insightful accounts I have seen thus far is “Can a Pope Resign?” by Fr. Thomas J. Reese, SJ in The National Catholic Reporter.
I did quickly do some research to see if there had been any social scientific analysis of this papacy, and found just one recent piece “Benedict the Bifurcated: Secular and Sacred Framing of the Pope and Turkey” authored by Valenzano and Menegatos and published by the Journal of Media and Religion in 2008.
Feel free to react to the resignation or to note other insightful accounts in the comments.
I had students in my class ask about the Pope’s resignation and if I had thoughts about it. When students start asking me to talk about something happening in the Church right now, I always feel inadequate. In a way, I identify with Weber who resisted taking any political stance in front of his students because he felt that the vocation of a teacher required that he not “influence” his students and let them work out their own solutions themselves. But I don’t want to respond in the same way he did, because when he responded to students’ requests for political answers of the day by developing abstract ideal types that felt remote from their everyday lives they basically got up, left, and looked for someone who would give them a more direct response.
What to make of Pope Benedict’s resignation? My first response is that Benedict is clearly not afraid of shaking things up. Does that mean he’s an innovator who likes new things? What he did was not exactly “new” but it hadn’t been done in over half a millenia! So, maybe his retirement should be seen as a quintessential example of his ressourcement approach to innovation by retrieval, where innovation takes the form of returning back to earlier sources of the early Christian Church in order to gain insight into the many diverse responses available to contemporary Christians–most of which we, everyday Catholics, are unaware that they even exist.
What about the coming conclave? My students wanted to know if we would ever get an American Pope. I told them that prognosticators are almost always wrong about these things–but then I went on to predict that it was very unlikely that an American would become pope. I told them that the College of Cardinals is heavily tilted towards Italians, so that would be my first guess, but if it wasn’t an Italian then I suspected that it might be someone from the developing world–perhaps Africa. There’s my two cents, which as I self-consciously noted from the outset, will probably be wrong.
By the way, why so little social science research on the papacy? Is this just a lacunae regarding Catholics, or is there very little research on religious leadership (beyond the parish level) in general? Maybe it is because social scientists don’t like to focus on a single person, but I don’t know of much research examining Bishops in general, either, but maybe I’m wrong. An interesting puzzle for us to consider…
Speaking of social science research on the papacy, on Monday The Washington Post featured an articled entitled “The Political Science of Papal Elections” (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/11/the-political-science-of-papal-elections/) I found it to be an interesting piece.
I liked him because of his strong beliefs in the area of environmental responsibility. He spoke openly about the threats such as global warming and other challenges we’ll have to face in the years to come. In my native Vancouver there’s now a project called Greenest City 2020 Action Plan whose aim is to eliminate the negative impact that our actions often have on the environment and it seems to me that those in power are reluctant to speak about these problems or support the activities carried out by various environmental movements. And I have to say Pope Benedict was never afraid to raise his voice to warn against the possible disastrous consequences in this particular area. I think he should be a source of inspiration for a number of leaders and that’s why he will definitely be missed by many here in Canada.