Pope and Change
"The Pope Is Irrelevant," argued an earnest, unintentionally comic opinion piece for CNN. The article appeared during the interregnum, the period just before the election of a new pope. Usually, it means the burial of the last pontiff. Yet Pope Benedict XVI was still very much with us and in control of his mental faculties. His surprise abdication of the papal throne shocked Rome, the wider Catholic Church, and of course the press. Time magazine's choice of successor Pope Francis as Person of the Year was half right. Francis was a huge newsmaker -- taking that surprise papal name, paying his own bills, living outside the papal palace, footwashing freely, bringing opulent bishops to heel, campaigning against an international war in Syria, warning us of the suffering of Middle East Christians, blessing guide dogs and untouchables and nursing mothers, upsetting people with his remarks on gays and capitalism and the role of the Church in the world. Benedict was also a huge newsmaker in his own right. The first pope to step down in 600 years did so for reasons that are still mysterious and, therefore, newsworthy. He took a vow of obedience to the new pope but that did not silence his pen. He has engaged critics of his own legacy and of Francis's papacy. Benedict has been seen as well as heard. At Christmastime, the Vatican released pictures of the two Popes -- emeritus and acting, we'll call them -- in almost identical white pope outfits, taking in the holiday together. It was a striking image and, before this year, an impossible one.