In 1993, whilst working for World Vision UK, a Christian charity, the position I occupied was made redundant.
With my young family, I had come over from Australia to work as WVUK’s Manager for Domestic Programmes – establishing and supporting community development projects in UK cities. Though, by all objective accounts, the overall programme was very successful, I had been in the job for only two years when the redundancy occurred. Of course, it is people, not positions, that are actually made redundant. So too, I was not alone in WVUK’s redundancies in 1993. A financial crisis within WV internationally, and the inability of WVUK to meet its share of the financial target. was cited as the prime reason for the redundancies.
As the reader will imagine, my redundancy was received with significant surprise and substantial sorrow, especially as I considered that, at that time, I was at my personal and professional pinnacle for this type of work. I remained out of work, or in part-time employment of various descriptions for three years, before becoming a secondary school teacher of Humanities. But that is another story (see my earlier blog, “A farewell to Campion speech – July 20, 2012”).
At the time of my WVUK redundancy I was an ordained Minister of Religion with the Baptist Church – a Christian denomination. Therefore, I deeply regarded my work with WVUK as a vocation, not just a job. Indeed, I viewed the WVUK appointment as the culmination of my life’s work as a minister 0f religion and a priest within the wider Christian Church. So, my redundancy from the position with WVUK seemed inexplicable to me and an affront to my ordination as a Christian minister. The situation was eventually to raise a number of questions that challenged my personal philosophy and vocational understanding. But that, too, is another story for some future occasion.
The above was brought back to my consciousness with the recent announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Papacy, the Bishop of Rome.
One commentator called the announcement “bizarre, almost unbelievable”. Indeed, if one believes in God, especially the God espoused by the Roman Catholic Church, it is most bizarre that the leader of this church – supposedly the ‘Vicar of Christ’ and ‘God’s representative on earth’, claiming divine appointment and sanction, not to mention power and presence – personally decides that, for whatever reason(s), he has had enough of the responsibility, as if the God he purports to serve is unable to provide the necessary personal and professional resources for him to continue.
One could say that God does, indeed, move in mysterious ways.
Clearly the issue was not one of organisational finances, nor one or other of the concerns of priests, retired or otherwise – accommodation, pension, job satisfaction, specific difficulties with the personal job specifications, or whatever. In retirement, Pope Benedict will have all of these needs adequately met.
It seems obvious that Benedict XVI has not been at the height of his powers. However, could it be that Pope Benedict has simply come to the end of his tether with the demands of the job, for example, protecting paedophile priests, accommodating disillusioned and recalcitrant Anglo-Catholics, or of upholding the increasingly irrational and questionable tenets of the Roman Catholic version of Christianity, for example, opposition to birth control, abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women priests.
However, if one does not believe in God then maybe this was the moment when the Papacy was revealed for what many believe it is – simply a job of being a high-powered executive in a creaking, though still very popular, human institution. Perhaps Pope Benedict became exhausted with being, and had the courage to admit it, the Papal puppet in a costume drama that is much indebted to ancient and medieval beliefs and practices – with their questionable histories and ethics, but increasingly cannot cut the mustard in contemporary world society.
Mind you, he took a risk in calling it a day. No matter how irregularly and unwittingly it may have occurred, exposing the Papacy as a job and not a position for an iconic and “sacrosanct heavenly ambassador” (with thanks to Deborah Orr of The Guardian for this very apposite term), was bound to have adverse outcomes.
Did Pope Benedict come to believe that his job was, despite the personal popularity and twitter following, really quite ordinary? Did he feel that all his hard work, in convocation, committee or on his knees, had no lasting value? Did Pope Benedict lose his faith? Did he come to believe that the investment in a life’s work in the priesthood did not, in the end, realise the fruits he had once imagined it would?
If so, then I have some sympathy for him, as my experience with WVUK might suggest. I am now in retirement and, being somewhat younger than Cardinal Ratzinger the retiree, alias Pope Benedict XVI, I may have more years left to me for reflection on the above matters than he has. I look forward to these years, irrespective of what revelations and realisations they hold.
Notwithstanding, I wish the outgoing Bishop of Rome a worthwhile retirement and trust we both may profit from contemplating, perhaps from different perspectives, that God might, after all, work in mysterious ways!