Comment: The Pope’s resignation is an opportunity for change

By John Pugh

It is a wise man who senses the limitations of his powers. Pope Benedict XIV has in my view shown great wisdom. He recognises the huge challenges ahead both for the Church and the world. He knows that he has not the physical strength to address them as he would wish. Perhaps too he feels he is not the man to do so.

It is unusual to find such humility in someone so intellectually able, steeped not only in the traditions and culture of the church but in its whole theological and philosophical heritage. Benedict was aware, on so many levels, of what the Church had to offer. Like a man guarding a great treasure, his major anxiety was how not to lose it.

Thus he will be seen, despite his role in Vatican 2, as a conservative Pope. He was a man who did not want to be Pope possibly because he knew the times did not require a conservative, but someone with a vision of the future.

He was preceded by a Pope who was visionary, John Paul II, but whose visions at times lacked the clarity and rigour the Church found in Cardinal Ratzinger.

Now the Catholic Church and Christianity, as it confronts a secular world with its own crises, badly needs a leader with the charisma of John Paul II and the lucid and grounded mind of Benedict XIV.

Last year in his 85th year Cardinal Martini, the man who many thought had he been well would have been John Paul' II's successor, left a damning last testament.

He accused the Church or rather the church hierarchy of being tired and acting in fear – fear of acknowledging errors in judgement and practice, fear of engaging with the world as we find it ,fear of allowing the voice of the laity to be heard too loud.

This wasn't a lazy, half-baked call for the Church to modernise, to 'get with the programme'. After all the programme of modern life is in a bit of mess.

In effect he called for leadership that is not afraid to "to stir up the embers" – just as in the Middle Ages it reluctantly endorsed radicals like St Francis of Assisi.

Many Catholic MPs are more than ever convinced that there is a need for Catholic action and social teaching led by a modern, inspired Church. We sense a God-given opportunity for the Church as the materialist utopia of consumer society is unmasked as the hopeless illusion it is.

What we pray for is the right Pope to lead such a Church.

John Pugh is the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport and the co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on health and social care.

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author