Unexpectedly, we bear witness to an historic event – a sitting pope resigning his office in our lifetime. This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, one which has not taken place in more than 600 years. The first question, of course is, simply: Why did this happen? Why would Pope Benedict take the drastic and historic action of stepping down of his own volition? Undoubtedly, these questions will one day be answered.
Still, the more important question may be how history will look upon his papacy, considering this resignation. I cannot speak for how the news media will treat this event, or how it will be recorded in the history books. But, as a non-Catholic outside observer, who has had a great deal of interaction with this pope, I humbly offer my opinion on how the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI should be viewed.
In support of our work with Pave the Way Foundation, my wife Meredith and I and, at times, members of our board met with Pope Benedict on 19 separate occasions. Pave the Way works to identify and eliminate obstacles between religions, improving peaceful, meaningful relations through intra-religious projects and concrete gestures of good will. It is a mission Pope Benedict XVI approves of and has personally supported.
We first met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his election to the papacy. Thus, we have literally known him since the moment he accepted the seat of St. Peter. When I look back on how supportive he was of our work, how he tackled the most difficult obstacles, I am in awe of his strength of conviction and his character.
Pope Benedict’s moral fiber first came to light with his pilgrimage back to Regensburg, Germany, and his meeting with Muslim leaders. He received severe criticism, and even threats to his life, because of his bold statements condemning the illegal use of religion to justify violence.
He confronted the Church’s sex scandals at every opportunity, making sweeping changes in Church policy in an effort to comfort the victims and see to it that such actions would never be tolerated on any level again.
In a controversial move, he lifted the ban of excommunication against the leaders of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s illicit Society of Pope Pius X. Benedict XVI made an earnest effort to negotiate with this extremist group the numbers more than 1 million, in order to one day bring them to full communion with the Catholic Church. Paramount to this action is that this community accepts the doctrines of the Second Ecumenical Council, most especially its historic declaration Nostre Aetate, of the church’s new relationship with other faiths. He made every effort to satisfy their demands, even with the recognition of the Latin Mass, but he remained resolute and steadfast to oppose their objections to Jewish Catholic relations. To date, because of the unyielding stand of this group, this reconciliation has not been reached. The Society of Pius X remains excommunicated.
Pave the Way Foundation has worked for more than six years to resolve the controversy surrounding the World War II era papacy of Pope Pius XII. This is one of the greatest obstacles to religious harmony between Jews and Catholics. We undertook an extensive investigation of this historical period, gathering thousands of documents and conducting in-depth interviews. His Holiness helped in this effort by eliminating some bureaucratic obstacles.
After personally conducting his own two-year study of the evidence, available only to him, Pope Benedict signed the decree enabling the process of canonization of Pope Pius XII to move forward, thus validating our work to bring resolution to this 48-year-old polemic.
Benedict XVI’s actions took enormous courage. He acted in ways that he believed were true, even in cases where his judgments were unpopular.
His decision to resign is another courageous move. In his heart he believes that he no longer possesses the strength and mental proficiency to continue to lead 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
We will miss this wonderfully brilliant, yet privately shy man. Your Holiness, thank you for all you have done. We will miss you.
Gary Krupp, who is Jewish, along with his wife, Meredith, founded the non-sectarian Pave the Way Foundation, an organization dedicated to achieving peace by closing the gap in tolerance, education and the practical relations between religions.