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The Resignation of the Pope

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The Resignation of the Pope

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Jenn Lindsay
Interrogating Religion
Washington Times Religion Blog
February 21, 2013

Does the Pope’s Resignation Matter to Non-Catholics?

News pages and Facebook feeds are abuzz with headlines of Pope Benedict’s resignation. 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide received this news with a range of reactions, asking questions such as: is the pope still infallible after retirement? What will happen to Cardinal Ratzinger? Who will the new pope be and what does that mean for my church?

Those of us who aren’t Catholic may look upon this news with curiosity or fascination, as the thick velvet curtain of the world’s third wealthiest institution (after Harvard University and Microsoft) is briefly drawn aside. But how does this news matter to non-Catholics? Yes, the Vatican is a fascinating, complex, opulent institution shrouded in historical secrets and arcane traditions. But do its political developments touch the lives of those who do not subscribe to its doctrine? Is the pope a mere figurehead, a politically impotent fashion-plate like the British royal family, or does he actually impact the world beyond the Vatican’s shadow? Is this news really significant for non-Catholics, beyond providing watercooler fodder and a rejuvenated cycle of internet memes?

One angle for considering the significance of the papacy to non-Catholics is to look at the tenure of the last pope, John Paul II. John Paul II’s star rose during a global media explosion. From the dawn of his papacy the world saw the development of the internet and cheaper, more efficient global transit. These two factors enabled the Pope to reach his followers in a personal, immediate way, becoming a central figure in their lives, and becoming visible and audible to the world at large. This visibility initiated many conversations about the relevance of religion in the modern age--especially when the institution at the center is addled with such grandiose and enigmatic aesthetics as the Vatican--and raised...