According to people who know about these things, congestive heart failure leads to serious loss of energy because the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. A knock-on effect is that mental capacity starts to be impacted. Congestive heart failure was one of the ailments that affected Franklin D. Roosevelt and towards the end of his presidency it robbed him of vitality in debate.
Yesterday’s revelation that Pope Benedict XVI had been fitted with a pacemaker focused attention on his declining health, and his brother had this to say to the BBC: “When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly.” That’s worth pondering because as we now know, many Popes have served the final part of their papacy with some sort of dementia. Benedict XVI will be one of the Popes who will not do that. And by virtue of being alive, compos mentis and in the ‘hood, so to speak, he’ll exert a significant influence over the selection of his successor. In this way, his decision to renounce his office acquires a new dimension of wisdom.