Millions of people from around the world were shocked at the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. It has been nearly 600 years since the last papal resignation, with only a handful throughout history.
Many theories surround this resignation, but those in the know will say that there were indications, right from the start, that this was a pope who felt strongly that "It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength." (In his first encyclical, "God is Love.")
Yet, with all of the drama surrounding this historic resignation, many are left to wonder, what does it matter, particularly to non-Catholics?
Some view it as an indication that the church must begin significant reforms to repair the damage it has sustained over the past several decades to its reputation.
While the church has certainly taken a heavy hit recently, it remains a strong influence throughout the globe. According to the World Christian Database, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, with over 40 percent in Latin America. According to the 2010 Official Catholic Directory, 22 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic.
These numbers have a major impact upon local, regional and global events, making the pope an enviable world leader in addition to being the spiritual head of the church.
The position of pope is a lifetime appointment. Pope Benedict could have remained until death, and while it is a full-time job, it is also a cushy appointment with many perks. So why leave?
Right from the start, the pope appears to have made the decision that a lifetime appointment was not in the best interest of the church or the people it serves and has perhaps decided to set a precedent of resignation, planned from day one.
His move is not only historic but also exhibits true selflessness and leadership. Pope Benedict put his responsibilities to the church over his own personal benefit.
It could be said that he had planned this all along to establish a precedent of service that acknowledges the limitations of man despite spiritual attainment.
He did so at a risk, given the tradition and expectations of office. It is decidedly human to recognize that you have given it all you can and it is now time to pass the responsibility on to someone else who can take it to the next level.
This is an admirable move, one indicative of a great world leader.
Why should we care? When governments fail their people, it is the spiritual leaders to whom they will turn. When things look hopeless, it is our faith that carries us forward.
The office of pope is a physical representation of a higher being that is filled by a man, with all of the strength and limitations that it implies.
A man who influences 1.2 billion people around the world is a man to be taken seriously.
His word can cause political chaos or stability. It can encourage support or detraction of a country's objectives. In short, it has a global influence that extends beyond borders. It is a power rivaled by leaders everywhere, Catholic or not, and every country has a vested interest in its outcome. We care about those who influence those we care about.
The pope is a class act in acknowledging his physical limitations while still retaining his spiritual leadership.
Regarding the problems the church has experienced in recent decades, despite the horrid nature of the actions of some, we must keep it in perspective. The Catholic Church is an $8 billion global organization with over 1 million employees in the United States alone and over 1.2 billion lay Catholics worldwide.
As is any organization of this magnitude, it is representative of the communities it serves. While the majority of its clergy and employees are there to serve with the highest purpose, there will always be those who sneak though the vetting process, who are less than honorable in their intentions or who develop mental or emotional issues as years go on.
It is those relative few who violate moral standards for selfish and perverted reasons that tarnish the spiritual image of the church and ruin it for the millions who have dedicated their lives in service to others.
There are no greater numbers of those individuals in the Catholic Church than in other religious organizations, corporations or government entities. After all, weirdos and perverts all work somewhere, and those organizations are always shocked to discover them among their ranks.
It is the level of trust that we place in their positions that makes these situations much more sensitive and volatile. The church as a whole is incredibly honorable and should be commended for the tremendous amount of good that they do in the world regardless of the recipient's religious affiliation. While the church certainly wouldn't be adverse to acquiring new converts, it is not a prerequisite to gaining the church's assistance.
Those who enter the priesthood or sisterhood dedicate their lives to charitable service and they certainly walk their talk. So, aside from its obvious religious mission, the Catholic Church is recognized by millions of people for its compassion and service to the needy.
The selection of a new pope is a political process, not necessarily a religious one, although spiritually driven. The church's leader will continue to impact billions of people from all religious denominations, as well as secular populations.
The pope's influence crosses all political, economic, cultural, geographic, racial, educational and religious lines. Like it or not, it matters.
Jacqueline Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at WinningImages.Cartier@gmail.com or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website www.CartierWinningImages.com.