Ash Wednesday – the Church’s shame & Lenten penance for Pope Benedict

The ash and the Cross

As we  launch today into this joyful season of lenten penance, perhaps our joy should be tempered by our sorrow at all that Pope Benedict has endured these last 8-odd years. Surely the wilful misrepresentations of his teachings, the arrogant refusal to accept his attempts to reconcile those drifting from the Church and to restore order to the life and liturgy of the Church, the scandalous opprobrium heaped on him for the abuse crisis when he was one of the few who so clearly and consistently stood against it, the bile and venom spat at him – and not just by the world but especially by Catholics: all this is an indictment of God’s people just as much as of the world. How could a man of such sensitivity be expected to withstand the torments of the world while being so maligned, so undermined, from within his own Church by the people God called him to lead?

The obedience of Christ on the Cross puts us to shame, especially those who have so wilfully disobeyed Pope Benedict. They have made their choice for “me”, not for God, or justice, or equality or any other self-serving camouflage. May God forgive them, and convert them.

This Lent let us double our penance, and take no short-cuts nor allow ourselves anything but the most truly justified breaks from our penance, and offer it up especially in reparation for the failure of the Church to support its supreme earthly Pastor as he deserved, and God demands.

And let us pray that in the Lenten conclave God will grant us the pope we should desire and not the one we have deserved by our culpable action, or inaction.

The Pope’s abdication brings shame – not to him, but on us.

Repent and believe the Gospel.


13 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday – the Church’s shame & Lenten penance for Pope Benedict

  1. I dont think theres any shame here what so ever,in fact its a very brave and intelligent decision.
    We are talking about a frail human being who is for want of a better phrase is ” past his best”.
    It is a job and is best served by someone younger and dynamic and more willing, it was never a good idea to appoint someone aged 78 as our Pope, I think the average catholic would have seen his selection as a stopgap, and hopefully we are now ready for a Pope who will be able to serve us and the needs of the catholic church.
    God bless the outgoing and the new incoming Pontiff.


    1. Thanks for your post.

      As I made abundantly clear, the shame rests not on the Pope but on we who have allowed him to be worn down by the vitriol of the world through our lack of vigorous support for him. And by we I mean the Church at large, though many of us have tried to support him as best we can. But of course, I trust Pope Benedict to be making a sound, well-considered, wise decision even if it hurts me that he has, and even if it sets up a possibly awkward precedent for future popes.

      But please, the papacy is not a job; the pope is not a CEO of a multinational. The papacy is a vocation, and the pope is a shepherd of the flock. It is not a role that can described adequately in worldly terms.

      Never did I, or anyone I have heard of, consider Pope Benedict to be a stop-gap pope. Indeed his election was a strong statement by the college of cardinals as to what they wanted, and what the Holy Spirit wanted. He was never a John XXIII – mind you, look what he achieved in his few years as pope.

      And Pope was always, and as of today still is, able “to serve us and the needs of the [C]atholic [C]hurch”, and so far has done so wisely, lovingly and courageously.


  2. This post brought me to tears. Thank you so much for helping me see in a new way all that this heroic pope has had to endure. It always seemed to me rather unfair that anyone should have to follow in the footsteps of the warm, charismatic, lovable John Paul the Great. Yet, dear Pope Benedict led the Church boldly, I think. You made me realize anew just how difficult that has been.


    1. Thank you Annie. It is nice to know that I may have got one thing right today! Let’s keep praying for him, as I hope he will teach us more for a while, as a theologian if no longer as pope. But a retired-pope theologian: brave person who would still try to argue with him!

      Pax. And blessings on your work for the Church.


  3. The emotional register of this post is understandable as an initial reaction to the seemingly unexpected announcement by the Holy Father. Nevertheless, the news needs to be placed in a much broader perpective. Unfortunately, any religious superior and any priest, bishop or pope will have to face the disobedience of his flock and the scorn of the world. Since this was the lot of Jesus, those who follow in his wake can hardly expect to be spared this trying aspect of their responsibility. I do not, however, believe that this played a significant role in Pope Benedict’s creative decision to step down from exercising his supreme office.
    To my mind, the announcement is best situated in a wider reflection and exploration of what the papal office means, both for the Church and for its office holder. Pope Benedict’s decision is one last piece of very interesting papal teaching. He appears to be doing no more than apply to himself his earlier reflections on the papal office. That he is going now, when his health issues related to old age are general rather than specfic, and when he is the focus of no particular crisis in the Church, is proof of this. The following article is an interesting initial articulation of the theological reflection that may have led to this decision ( There is much more to be said, and plenty of time to say it, but it would be a pity not to seize the positive aspect of this courageous decision. We may rightly salute Pope Benedict as a great pope, and we may feel sorrow at losing a sure and trusted shepherd, but he is drawing us back to his initial comment after his election in 2005. He is, like all of us, a “simple worker in the Lord’s vineyard” who can, and who sometimes must, be replaced. This inspires hope and trust rather than shame.


    1. My emotions have calmed quiet significantly and I can see positives to his decision, though I think it sets potentially dangerous precedents for future pontiffs. There is talk now that he planned to go after his 85th birthday, that he had no intention of becoming what JP II became in his last years (much as it was a powerful witness to the world, it was something only JP II could have done), that his trip to Mexico and Cuba decided him once for all, etc.

      However, the pope is not equivalent to a religious superior or even an ordinary bishop. His role is unique, his authority uniquely guaranteed by Christ, and he deserves a submission and obedience that is unique. Large sections of the Church either opposed him or undermined him by equivocation, and this can only have added to his ageing and weakening. He had been quite spry when elected. But he is in his mid-80s for sure, and things wear out. Still, I am convinced the Church needs to do penance for him, and to prepare to support the next pope as he deserves to be supported.



  4. Yes, I think J-P II’s unique version of a ‘perfect and living sacrifice’ was part of his personal charism rather than something that can be expected from each and every pope. Penance will always be needed in the Church, and the disciples of Christ can aways obey more fully, maturely and intelligently those who teach and govern in his name. But this decision by Pope Benedict is, I feel, an opportunity to explore something new and enrich our understanding of the papal office.


    1. For every cloud there is a silver lining, as they say. But for every silver lining, there is a cloud. This one is still dark for me, no matter my unstinting trust in Benedict as a man and as a pope.



  5. That much I can agree with wholeheartedly. But since the cardinals have been chosen very carefully and wisely (67 out of 117 cardinal electors have been appointed by Pope Benedict himself), I feel sure we can hope for the best.


  6. I may be wrong, but I don’t think they absolutely have to elect one of their own number. Maybe that point has been tidied up now. But 117 potential candidates is a far bigger hand than in many other church elections.


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