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Stepping down from high office

Published: Sep 21, 2013

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The world was surprised when the head of the Roman Catholic Church resigned several months ago. Popes don’t usually resign. Like monarchs they serve until death. The last pope to resign did so six centuries ago.

Pope Benedict XVI is an old man. The 85-year-old said his health is just not good enough to continue on. The whole world was talking about his decision. Who knows if his age and health are the full reasons behind his departure, but watching a powerful man give up power voluntarily is extraordinary.

In The Bahamas, we have the opposite tradition. Thus far in the political arena in our four decades of independence none of our prime ministers has given up power.

The two who retired – Sir Lynden Pindling and Hubert Ingraham – were defeated in general elections that precipitated their retirements. Perry Christie is still active in politics. It is unclear what he will do.

But the issue of staying on and on and not being able to give up power goes beyond the political sphere. It is even more of an issue in our churches.

Some pastors die in charge of the church and in the last moments of life try to “give it” – as if they own it – to their children. Some are so old and ill that they can’t even carry out the most basic functions of the office, yet they stay on. Regardless of being blind, crippled or deaf, these men go on and on and on.

When a powerful leader who is secure in his position steps away, acknowledging that he has no more to offer, it demonstrates to a society that the office is more important than the person holding it.

When a man stays on and refuses to leave when his best days are behind him, it gives the impression that the man is more important than the church, or the business or the country.

All of us have a limit to our usefulness at the task or tasks we dedicate our lives to.

It is obvious when the time has come to say goodbye. If as leaders we care about the institution we lead while we are in charge we should ensure that the leaders of tomorrow have the necessary training to lead when we are gone.

The pope said that once he surveyed his conscience before God he came to the certainty that his strengths, due to age, are no longer suited to adequately lead the Catholic Church. If it is as simple as that, the pope did well to make a decision that elevated the flock and faith above self.


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