|Image: wp clipart|
"Holy smoke!" was my reaction when I read the news of the Pope's retirement on Monday but it's been hard to explain to friends in Italy that the announcement did not cause the consternation in Britain that it has done in Catholic countries. Several people I've spoken to here have accused the Pontiff of cowardice and have made unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor's approach to ageing and increasing frailty - harsh judgement, indeed, considering that we do not know the exact circumstances which have led Pope Benedict to take his momentous decision.
It seems to me that, somewhat ironically, given that many would say he has done little to advance the cause of women, the fate of the Pope is similar to that of western women in this 21st century - he simply isn't allowed to grow old gracefully and maybe that is just what he needs, rather than wants, to do. And surely there is some merit in being able to admit that you have reached a point in your life where you cannot carry out your duties as you would like to?
It must be hard being the Pope these days: you have to be supersonic and when you arrive at particularly remote destinations you are expected to walk, with a spring in your step, around terrain that is not going to be exactly user-friendly towards your long, white vestments. After all, the Pope can hardly go and get himself a practical, Clintonesque pants suit, can he? You also have to listen to everything from Gregorian chant to the songs of Miss Susan Boyle whether you like them or not and, to top it all, you have to be a tweeting pope too. I am not suggesting that His Holiness does not have savvy media advisers to do this for him and if he is anything like me - which I somehow doubt - he will love twitter. But I don't have to be infallible whilst dreaming up pope puns, tweeting links to learned articles to impress my friends or commenting on "The Archers"; nor are 1561856 followers likely to read my nonsense.
No, if part of your job description is to be infallible there are just too many places to be publicly fallible these days!
Finally, here's a word of advice for the Vatican: choose a woman, dearies - we're used to being fallible and one of our number would be so much better able to cope with the clothes....
|Image: Phillip Martin|