Jane Devine: Authority more important than age

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign - the first Pope to do so since 1415. Picture: AP
Pope Benedict XVI is to resign - the first Pope to do so since 1415. Picture: AP
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Experience, authority and knowing your limitations are much more important than what age you are, writes Jane Devine

RESIGNATION and abdication. Both are interesting concepts, especially because of the context in which they have been debated in the media recently. The abdication of the Dutch queen prompted questions about the reign of our own monarch and whether she should step down, allowing her son or grandson to take over; and the more recent resignation of the Pope shocked Catholics around the world who expect the Pontiff to end his life in office.

The focus of much of the debate about the suitability and continuation of both these leaders centres on age: can you be too old, or be too young, to be Queen or Pope; where is the balance to be struck between being old enough to have had sufficient experience to lead a people, and being young enough to have the physical and mental capacity to see it through?

But in all this debate, there seems to be a different expectation and perspective on how the question of age applies to both these leaders. Commentators question whether the Queen is too old to carry on, but equally question why the Pope isn’t seeing out his papacy until he dies.

The fact is that there are many qualities that make a good leader and age is far from a determining factor; but also, the office of Pope and Queen are not normal leadership roles which adhere to the common requirements of leadership.

Consider the route that the Queen and Pope have taken into the roles they occupy. The Queen, being born into hers and crowned at just 25, committed her entire adult life to her office. The Pontiff pursued what is often described as a “calling”: elected by the papal conclave at 78, he had already committed over 50 years of his life to the church before he even attained office.

Consider also the seriousness with which they take their roles. They take them so seriously that one has reigned for more than 60 years, despite having a son in-waiting (who is now the longest “serving” heir in British history), and the other has taken a decision to step down, challenging almost 600 years of precedent, because he feels he can no longer adequately fulfil his role.

We also have to consider the offices that the Pope and the Queen hold. The Catholic Church and the British monarchy are, apart from anything else, massive businesses. The Catholic Church is the biggest Christian church in the world with over a billion followers; and the British monarchy reigns over the 54 members of the Commonwealth. The idea that one person is in charge of all of this is misconception: both the Pope and the Queen are figureheads and, in that sense, their age is of even less consequence.

Whether Catholic, atheist, agnostic or other; whether monarchist, republican or indifferent, the point is that experience, authority and, perhaps most importantly, knowing your own limitations are much more important in these roles than simply age.