Shockwaves reverberated all across the globe last week as the pope – the spiritual leader of the catholic religion, resigned citing ill-health. He is the first pope since Gregory XII to resign, and that was in 1415. This is an incredibly important day for both the papacy, and Catholics everywhere, and in Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation there is sure to be much debate on many subjects. Was he right to quit? What will happen? What does this mean for the papacy – will this stifle their message as a whole, and impede how effective they communicate with believers as an organisation?
By insider accounts, it would seem that the Pope has been ill, or at least suffered the ravages of his old age – he is 85. But then again that’s a year younger than Queen Elizabeth II, and she’s doing all right. But, then again, she hasn’t had the same contentious issues to deal with as Mr Pope. He has, according to rumour, been able to work only for two or three hours a day.
There will be many traditionalists who accuse the Pope of letting people down or even shirking his incredibly important duties. In my opinion, this step communicates two important sentiments. First, it matters that the Catholic Church has a pontiff who is not just symbolic, and second, the outgoing Pope is rather brave. If he wasn’t prepared to be just a figurehead, when he could easily have allowed himself to be, that tells me that he took his responsibilities very seriously and had the best interests of the church at heart. He wasn’t there for personal glory, and wasn’t prepared to stay when someone could do the job better.
This is important in terms of communication, because it conveys the notion that the Catholic Church is in touch with its followers and is responsible as an administration. I think this has actually done wonderful work for both the Pope’s personal public relations, and the public relations of the church as an organisation (rather than a religion, where the implications are different). I can not think of many world leaders who would step down in this sort of situation, and in my opinion this displays great humility and grounding.