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
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1438 GMT (2238 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says a nonprofit animal rights group has made at least a plausible case that chimpanzees qualify for being considered people by the courts.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Casey Oppenheim says that as leading tech companies call on President Obama to reform surveillance practices, Americans worry they've lost control of their personal data. There are tools that can help us regain some control, but it's an uphill battle
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un purged his uncle from power and memory, he used a ruthless tactic perfected by Saddam Hussein.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 0621 GMT (1421 HKT)
Ira Helfand says the some 17,000 nuclear warheads that exist today are an existential threat that is ignored, even though a limited nuclear war would be devastating, unleashing a global famine and chaos
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says politicians in both parties have largely been bystanders as their constituents have seen middle class lifestyles fall apart
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
Gregory Ruhnke says sharing exam questions is a dangerous practice that fosters behavior which can harm doctors and the public.
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says boomers keep making life up as they go along and put fulfillment and happiness, even in later life, ahead of the need to stay married. Will younger generations follow suit?
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
David Frum says it's no time to be celebrating an economic rebound despite last week's GDP and jobs news
December 8, 2013 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Attention, holiday shoppers: Put away your wallets and credit cards. The best gifts are free, writes Bob Greene
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1813 GMT (0213 HKT)
Photojournalist Monica Morgan says Nelson Mandela was someone who not only wanted peace, but lived his life full of love, so much so that he was able to forgive his enemies and strive for unity.
December 7, 2013 -- Updated 1836 GMT (0236 HKT)
Joshua Stanton and Sung Yoon Lee say the world must deny the Kim regime access to the global financial system until it closes the brutal prisons that have held hundreds of thousands of innocent people
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says conservatives should take note: Rising inequality is the proven enemy of stability.
December 8, 2013 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Roxanne Jones recalls visiting South Africa in the days apartheid was beginning to unravel
December 7, 2013 -- Updated 0038 GMT (0838 HKT)
David Rothkopf says the death of Mandela reminds us of the stunning changes that swept the world in the time of his triumph
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2348 GMT (0748 HKT)
While in jail, Nelson Mandela was able to fundamentally change himself and emerge as a potent leader, says John Battersby.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Stephen Trachtenberg says if students pay $55,000 a year, they may feel they've paid for the As in dollars as well as sense.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
James Hansen says science tells us how to avoid devastating the planet through carbon emissions; all we need to do is act.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Immigration activist Eliseo Medina, who just concluded a fast on the National Mall, says that unless immigration reform is passed by Congress, the country's legacy in jeopardy.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
Kennedy Odede says Nelson Mandela's example kept his spirit alive when he lived on the streets as a child in a dangerous slum in Nairobi.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 0037 GMT (0837 HKT)
Jim Sterba: A woman was mauled by a bear. Coyotes and wolves are increasing. We need wildlife to fear us.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sally Kohn says hospitals are closing in GOP states that refused to expand Medicaid. Republicans want to spite Obama, but they end up hurting their constituents.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1451 GMT (2251 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah: Who could've ever predicted that 140 characters could screw up so many people's lives?
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Matthew Fraser says racism is a sensitive issue in France, and Bob Dylan's comments have touched a raw nerve.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Johnita Due says we can understand and empathize with the pain felt by survivors of the Newtown shootings, yet access to public records is vital if we are to fully understand our society and its ills.
December 4, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Brian Donovan says we don't know what went through Paul Walker's mind in the moments leading up to his fiery end, but the crash may provide yet another example of speed's addictive power
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2255 GMT (0655 HKT)
Robert Ellsberg says Rush Limbaugh's remarks show no one is troubled by a pope who loves the poor until the pope dares to reflect on the causes of poverty
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
Sanjay Gupta says whether the Affordable Health Care Act ends up improving health has a lot to do with whether Americans start making better personal decisions about eating, exercise and weight loss
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
Kyle Ayers says it's OK to share conversations publicly as long as the people involved are kept anonymous.
Today's five most popular stories