Will the Pope's Resignation Propel the Church into Modernity?

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Pope Benedict XVI leaves after the mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 900th anniversary of the Order of the Knights of Malta, on February 9, 2013 at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of the month, and he leaves behind a church shaken by sex abuse scandals, funding crises, and declining membership in many parts of the world.

While the pope certainly inherited many of those problems, his doctrinal conservatism alienated some, according to Robert Mickens, correspondent for the international Catholic weekly The Tablet, who was interviewed on The Takeaway yesterday.

"Benedict XVI, over the last eight years, has made a very strong appeal to move back to a more traditional style of church, even if that means people walk away," Mickens said. "So I think that in this kind of context, when even people in his own church are not altogether in line with him, that must be very difficult for a man who is approaching his 86th year."

Charlie Sennott, executive editor of GlobalPost and longtime reporter on the Catholic Church, agrees, adding: "He just did not have the energy to go forward to run a church of a billion Catholics worldwide with the tremendous struggles that it faces." Those struggles include the financial and moral implications of the priest sex abuse scandal and the issue of condom restrictions in the age of AIDS.

Sennott contends that Catholics are divided over Pope Benedict XXIII's approach to these issues, with some admiring his traditionalist drive and others condemning it. "He has really tried to bring the church back to what he has seen as its core."

Sennott does not believe a figure like Pope like John XXIII is going to come along to enact a reformist movement. However, he does believe there are promising progressive elements within some potential successors:"some of the leading candidates really could be very sophisticated on Catholic and Muslim issues and some believe in allowing divorced Catholics to remarry without an annulment and be able to receive communion."

Charlie's coverage of Pope Benedict’s resignation is featured on GlobalPost’s new Belief blog.