A few weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI announced plans to retire. This sent a series of shock waves through the one billion members of the Roman Catholic Church as a Pope hadn’t resigned in six centuries. He cited his advanced years and infirmity as reasons to step aside. Last week among a crowd of 150, 000, Pope Benedict prayed, blessed, thanked, and bid adieu. He was then carried away to Castel Gandolfo via helicopter. It was quite the ceremonial send off. People wept, waved and cheered.
This rare decision of Pope Benedict has me pondering, “Are there appropriate reasons that lead to consider retiring?
In the U.S., the average age of retirement in 2005 was 64; in 1910, it was 74. Obviously, the number is fluid, varying according to employment and economic trends, locale, race, gender, income, occupation, and life expectancy. A typical worker expects to retire at 67; the age has been increasing since 1995, when it was 60.
What happens to those who cannot afford to stop working? What choices are available for them? Can they be forced to retire?
Fortunately, most U.S. companies cannot mandate retirement. There are only a few professions in the U.S. which can mandate retirement at a certain age: pilots must retire by 65, air traffic controllers by 56, park rangers and firefighters by 57.
The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 federally protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age. An original purpose of this provision was to prevent involuntary retirement based on age. How many people are aware of this law?
In other countries the average age of retirement is similar to the average age in the U.S.—in Canada, 65—in Australia, 62—in Greece, 67—in India, 60—in Israel, 64—in Germany, 65—in Pakistan, 60—in the UK, 63. The list goes on.
Still many people won’t have the opportunity to retire in a custom as grand as Pope Benedict. He will live in a beautiful home with a small staff to care for his every need. It’s certainly seems a nice gig if you can get it. Or is it?
Pope Benedict XVI has had to deal with several scandals during his tenure. Recently, the Pope’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, leaked Vatican memos that revealed corruption and intrigue. There are the unending and ever expanding child sex abuse cases and the Vatican’s failure to address them. There were missteps regarding a British Bishop who denied the horrors of the Holocaust and who also claimed some Islamic teachings are ‘evil and inhumane’. Plus the Pope had the job of being spiritual leader and healer for his members, evangelist, and administrator, all roles that required focus, energy, and time. Perhaps these were too many hats for the elderly red shoed pontiff to wear?
We may never know the reasons the Pope decided to resign. But, he had a choice and he elected to invoke that option. May God Bless him and the Catholic Church as it moves into its next phase.
It is my hope when others are faced with a choice to retire or continue to work that there be options allowing them the opportunity to live out their days with grace and dignity.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.