Pope Benedict shows true leadership by resigning
February 17, 2013 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
With the resignation of Pope Benedict, take a look at history's longest-reigning popes, or check out history's shortest-reigning popes.
No. 10 (10th longest-reigning pope): Pope Urban VIII reigned for 20 years, 11 months and 24 days from 1623 to 1644.
- Pope Benedict stuns world by announcing he will resign
- Roland Martin says it's a wise decision for a leader to step down when his powers fail
- He says a mark of a good leader is the care he takes about the institution he is leaving
- Martin: Too many in power try to hang on after they are no longer capable
Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."
(CNN) -- When Thurgood Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1991, a reporter asked him what were the medical reasons that contributed to his leaving the bench -- and its lifetime appointment -- after serving for nearly 25 years. He was his usual blunt self.
"What's wrong with me?" Marshall said at the packed news conference. "I'm old. I'm getting old and falling apart."
When the news broke this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics because of his concerns about being able to do the job, many began to speculate that there were other reasons for the decision.
We have become accustomed to a pope dying in office. That's not a surprise. It has been nearly 600 years since the last pope, Gregory XII, quit in 1415.
Even though the job of pope is a lifetime appointment, frankly, it is selfish of any individual to hold on to the job for dear life, knowing full well they don't have the capacity to do the job.
"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," according to a statement from Pope Benedict released by the Vatican.
Whether we want to be honest or not, it was sad to watch the decline of Pope John Paul II. He was a vibrant figure when he became pope in 1978, traveling the world and spreading the gospel to anyone who would listen. But toward the end of his life in 2005, he was barely able to move or talk, clearly worn down by significant health challenges.
Too early for new pope speculation
Any leader who respects the organization they serve should have the common sense to know when it's time to say goodbye. We've seen countless examples of CEOs, pastors, politicians and others hang on and on to a position of power, hurting the very people they were elected or chosen to serve.
It takes considerable courage for anyone to step away from the power bestowed upon them by a position, as well as the trappings that come with it.
I'll leave it to others to try to figure out other reasons behind the resignation. But we should at least acknowledge the value of an ego-less decision that reflects humility and concern about the very institution the pope pledged his life to.
All leaders should be concerned about their institution continuing to grow and thrive once their days are no more. That's why a proper succession plan is vitally important.
Too often we have assessed great leaders by what they did in their positions. But their final legacy really is defined by how they left a place.
Pope Benedict XVI knows full well the Catholic Church cannot grow and prosper if its leader is limited in traveling and attending to his flock. There comes a time when one chapter must end and another begins. He has more days behind him than in front of him. He should enjoy his last years in peace and tranquility, without having to worry about trying to do the work designed for a younger man.
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.
Part of complete coverage on
March 9, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Kirk Bloodsworth says DNA cleared him after 9 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He is living proof, he says,that America's system of capital punishment is broken beyond repair.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1406 GMT (2206 HKT)
President Putin's endgame in Crimea is now clear—and the West has only a few days to act, writes Daniel Treisman.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Melinda Gates says data is not boring; it is a powerful tool in targeting assistance to women and girls, and making the case to world leaders that empowering women makes a difference.
March 9, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
Bob Greene says doctors are distracted by their computer screens when they should be giving patients precious face-to-face time
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Sandra Fluke says for her generation, issues that matter are gender-related violence, education and economic equality.
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 0300 GMT (1100 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says we've heard a good deal of nonsense and hyperbole about the Crimea confrontation.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Adam Lewis says jobs numbers conceal reality of the changing work landscape--human jobs are quickly shifting to computers. Schools must refocus priorities to prepare the next generation.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
Robin Morgan asks: What if human rights group Amnesty International decided to condone pimping? It happened when an AI document called for legalizing prostitution.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Tim Maurer say reports of cyberattacks in Ukraine fit a pattern of a new and risky form of warfare.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Will Cain blasts New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for not allowing a charter school to open in a city building, saying the mayor has condemned the kids to failure.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the state's law, as written, lets someone take a picture up your skirt in a public place. But don't blame the court for upholding the law, blame the legislators who enacted it
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
John Sutter says the "gay Jim Crow" bills that are popping in up in several states are a step back for the U.S.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 0529 GMT (1329 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a court rightly sided with a driver stopped while consulting a map on his phone.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says words and sanctions aren't enough; the U.S. has to ramp up energy production and its military resources
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0015 GMT (0815 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Putin may be using a similar ethnic justification for his Ukraine incursion, but that's pretty much where Clinton's comparison would have to end
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says that as Russia looks set to slice off a part of Ukraine and keep it for itself, there are important lessons to be drawn; among them, brute force is not thing of the past
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Eric Liu says a China state media article that used an ethnic slur against U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke revealed stark differences between China and America
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
David Logan says holacracy, an organizational system that gets rid of hierarchy, might work at Zappos.
Today's five most popular stories