So say philosophy professors Pierre Dulau and Martin Steffens in a dismayed article for La Croix, the semi-official paper of French Catholicism:
Whatever may be the justifications we may give to this decision, the fact is there: this resignation by the pope is a catastrophe. It is an event that is rarely found in History, a fact that, in its symbolic violence, is a portrait of our time.
The Papacy is, in the West, the very last function of which it is commonly accepted by all that it engages the one who entered it “up until death”. This “till death” means at least two things. First, that human life is not its own goal: our life has no meaning if not linked to a greater Life to which we may, in justice, sacrifice everything—exactly as the love of the spouses, “till death” as well, takes its meaning from beyond itself, in a promise that does not cease existing.
This “till death” recalls consequently that the pope, a “pontiff”, is the arch that links Earth to Heaven, that is, by the threshold of death, finite life to infinite Life. A pope who resigns is a bridge that decides not to reach the other side where promise lies, [a destination] of which it is the assurance, and that leads there all those who left the point of departure.
To rupture this arch by way of a unilateral decision means as well to join hands with the global movement of non-commitment that strikes the entire Western symbolic order (and of which the mounting moral barbarity is the necessary flip side). Parenthood? Yes, but if we are in the mood for it, as long as we are in the mood for it. Marriage? Yes, if I can get divorced. To be in charge? Why not, if that does not deprive me of my right to happiness… There where a word is given that opens the door of life to something greater than itself, there also that word is broken, mocked, relegated as an old oddity. And even a pope should resign? A CEO or a president may resign. A pope is fired by death.
We hear everywhere, amidst the usual mockery and vulgar comments, that this decision by the pope is eminently respectable, that it shows great humility, a great interior freedom. That same individual freedom that the Pope himself never ceased denouncing, viewing it in the more generous perspective of rendered service? As for humility, does it not consist rather of accepting a responsibility that bothers our own immediate nature? The weight that he must carry is, undoubtedly, too heavy for him. But, if it were not, he would not be the pope.
What is the point, therefore, in order to justify this historic rupture, of alluding to changes that affect the world, the inhuman speed of a reality made technical even in its most intimate recesses? Christians are capable of following a sick, infirm, wounded leader, drained of his forces: they proved it in the past by following a guilty man according to the law. They proved that gentleness is invincible, and that pain is not eternal for the Just. They proved it, precisely because, at regular intervals, someone as frail as them would tell them: “Be not afraid.” . . .
Today, in fact, we are all Sedevacantists. We say it in an unreasonable fashion in order to express this dismay that the polite comments of those who wish to keep up appearances wish to shut down: after February 11, the seat of the papacy is vacant, as if to give reason to those who are most extreme in the field occupied by the Society of Saint Pius X.
Of course, Christianity has never been more needed than at those times of its own impossibility. This religion welcomes crisis as Christ welcomed the Cross. Without a Pope, as incredible as it may seem, it is in frailty that Catholicism will have to reveal its strength. But it is still necessary that this ordeal be named and recognized by those affected by it. Hope cannot ignore this cry that, today, calls out for it strongly: our pope, why have you abandoned us?
Dulau and Steffens are wrong to suggest that Benedict made his choice with any reference to his own “inner freedom.” We can be sure that Benedict felt bound to step down just as he felt bound to accept his election in the first place. Nor am I convinced that the authors of such a strongly worded article know more of humility than does Benedict. That said, their dismay and anger, their sense of abandonment, is felt by many. How can a man cease to be one’s “papa,” one’s holy father?