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Abp Smith: admiration for Pope's courageous, faith-filled decision

(Vatican Radio) “My initial reaction, emotionally, was one of sadness,” said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, “because, like so, so many I’ve grown to love and admire this man for his extraordinary gifts of leadership. And it’s certainly sad to see that drawn to an end.” The President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Smith spoke with Vatican Radio in the days following Pope Benedict’s shocking announcement that he would be resigning the papacy. “At the same time,” he said, “I recognise, as do others, that no one knows the responsibilities of the Pope from the inside except the Pope himself. And he himself knows his own limits, he knows the extent of the incredible burden that’s placed on his shoulders, and he’s come to this particular decision. And, of course, we have to respect his judgment.”

Archbishop Smith spoke about the “sense of admiration,” both in his own diocese and around the world, for the Pope’s decision, which he said, has been “recognised universally as a very courageous one, and as one filled with faith.”

The decision to resign the papacy is entirely consistent with the Pope’s teaching. “The other thing that occurs to me, reflecting upon this, is just how consistent this action is with the words that the Pope has spoken, not just as Pope, but throughout his entire career as a theologian.” Pope Benedict, said Archbishop Smith, “has been one of the world’s, and history’s, great, great teachers of the faith. And this action teaches us something. He spoke of how his decision has been made after a long time of thought, examining his conscience before God. And here he is putting into action something that has been central to his teachings for years: the centrality and role of conscience, and how we need to listen to it, and follow its dictates.”

Our society, and particularly our western society, has a great need for “this particular example of lifting up the centrality and importance of conscience,” according to Archbishop Smith. “In western society conscience has grown numb, it’s fallen asleep, and it needs to be awakened. And here by this action, he’s teaching us just that.”

He continued, “The other that he’s teaching is the need to understand and live within our limits. And that is another particular trial, not just for western society but for human nature, ever since the original sin, where we tried to reach out beyond our limitations, beyond our creatureliness. And he, by acknowledging his limits at this particular time, is saying, ‘No, limits are part of our human reality and we need to respect them and live within them, and as we do, placing our trust in the wisdom and in the providence, and in the love of God.’”

Finally, said Archbishop Smith, Pope Benedict is showing us “that the papacy is not a position of power, but a position of service one that needs to be exercised by a very humble office holder. And in humility, he has examined his life, and said, ‘I don’t feel that right now I can continue this office of service with the limitations that are constraining me.’ And in humility and out of love for the Lord and for the Church, he is making this decision as one which continues his particular service of the church. It also teaches us that we are not to be clinging to what we might see as symbols, offices of power, but the human person who trusts in the Lord and follows the Lord is called, at each and every moment, to let go of attachments, to let go of worldly symbols of power or prestige, and just have oneself dedicated fully to serving the Lord with the entirety of oneself.”

“The more that people reflect upon this absolutely courageous and faith-filled decision of the Holy Father,” said Archbishop Smith, “the more we are taught, the more we learn. And this was just perfectly in continuity with a whole life dedicated to teaching God’s people.”

Listen to the complete interview of Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton with Christopher Wells: RealAudioMP3