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Good Riddance, Benedict!

If the pope were a CEO he would have been fired years ago as he oversaw the decline of the Catholic Church and covered up its worst abuses. Michael C. Moynihan says good riddance to the failed pontiff.

In March, a cough of white smoke from the papal conclave will announce that the College of Cardinals, acting in collusion with God, has appointed his latest representative on Earth. In 2005, in a time of profound crisis for the Church, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger received the nod, becoming Pope Benedict XVI. Today, he abdicated that role—after conferring with the ultimate boss, who can be rather forgiving of sin—citing his deteriorating health. In a statement, Benedict said that medical problems had created an “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” It was the first time a pope had abandoned his post (recall the stooped and sickly figure of Pope John Paul II, loyal servant until the end) since Pope Gregory XII forfeited the job in 1415.

Vatican Pope Resigns

Pope Benedict XVI leaving at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, June 16, 2010. The Vatican announced Monday that the Pope will resign on Feb. 28, 2013. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Benedict’s brief tenure was riven by conflict and controversy. The slow erosion of Catholicism’s influence predated his reign, of course, but he did little to reverse to trend—and he might very well have expedited it. Indeed, if Benedict was the CEO of a powerful international, peddling a product that a significant population of the world couldn’t live without, and presided over a continuing slide in that product’s market share (for lack of a better phrase), he would have been relieved of his duties years ago.

In 2010, the National Catholic Register wrote that the Church’s difficulty retaining members amounted to one of “the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history.” Add to this mix the Vatican’s lumbering response to an unprecedented shift in cultural mores and a spreading inter-Church sexual abuse scandal, which implicated not only dozens of child-rapist priests but countless senior Church figures complicit in covering up their crimes.


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The resignation by Joseph Ratzinger, from his office as Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican Head of State, was merely expedient—he has become too old to cope. (The queen and Rupert Murdoch might usefully follow his example). It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye—the rape, buggery, and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care. Instead of this measure of accountability, he has refused even to change canon law, so as to force all pedophile priests to be defrocked and to require all bishops to hand over the evidence for their crimes to law-enforcement authorities.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI attends prayers in Vatican City in October 2011. (Franco Origlia/Getty)

The pope’s “command responsibility” for a crime against humanity—as widespread and systematic child abuse surely is—goes back to 1981 when he was appointed Prefect (i.e. Head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican body that is in charge of disciplining errant priests. For the next 24 years, until he became pope, he presided over a system in which the CDF regularly refused to allow bishops to defrock child molesters, and knew of and approved their transfer to other parishes and often to other countries, where they usually re-offended. Although the CDF files are a closely guarded secret, letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several U.S. court cases, always protective of rapist priests. 

The case of Father Lawrence Murphy, for example, who molested  200 deaf boys at a Catholic school in Wisconsin, (the subject of Mea Maxima Culpa, which began airing last week on HBO) led to anxious communication between local church officials and Ratzinger, who emphasized “the need for secrecy” because he was worried about “increasing scandal.” Although he knew Murphy to be guilty, the cardinal ordered the secret proceedings to end so that the guilty priest could die a respected member of his brotherhood.


Pope Wimps Out

As opposed to Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t seem to have taken his lifetime appointment from God very seriously. Andrew Roberts on the serious theological and political implications of the pope’s bowing out.

First Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announces her abdication last month, and now Pope Benedict XVI suddenly states that he too will step down from the pontificate at the end of this month. Is abdication catching? Might it even extend to the British monarchy, now that Queen Elizabeth II—who is a year older than the current pope—has just celebrated her 60th year on the throne? The answer is a resounding No.

Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI

Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI. (Getty (2))

The queen of the Netherlands inherited her throne in 1980 only through the abdication of her mother, Juliana, who also became queen in 1948 after her mother, Wilhelmina, abdicated. There is therefore a happy precedent for the phenomenon. By total contrast, abdication is the dirtiest word in the House of Windsor’s lexicon, carrying with it the concepts of shame, ignoble behavior, and dereliction of duty. When the queen’s Uncle David—King Edward VIII—abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor, it was considered a terrible betrayal by the whole of the rest of the family. Only 10 years old at the time, the then-princess Elizabeth was deeply affected by the understanding that her father would have to take on the role of monarch, and the terrible strain of it—especially during the Second World War—added to the health complications that severely shortened his life. He died at only 56. For a woman as committed to doing her duty as Her Majesty, abdication would be a betrayal of the promise she made to God when she was anointed at her coronation in 1953 and is therefore not an option. Fortunately the pope chose not to have a coronation in 2005 and so took no similar oath.

In becoming the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415, Benedict opens up a theological question that Elizabeth II would not want asked in Britain. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, God works through the conclave of cardinals during their process of electing the next pope, who is only chosen through his grace. So when the white smoke emerges from the Vatican chimney, it means that the Almighty has made his choice, too. That established, at what point did the Almighty withdraw his grace from Benedict? Was it today, when he made his surprise announcement? Or will it be on February 28, when he steps down from the Holy See and quits Saint Peter’s? Or perhaps does the grace of God still accrete to him until his successor is elected by the end of March, for surely it can’t be shared by two people on earth simultaneously? Or did His Holiness lose the grace of God sometime over the past eight years since it descended on him, hence his resignation?


The Bureaucrat and the Saint

Every pope mixes the roles of CEO and Vicar of Christ, but a comparison of Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II, suggests just how different those roles really are.

Some see the pope as an administrator of that enormous multinational corporation called the Catholic Church. Others prefer to see him as the corporeal symbol of something still more vast: the human spirit and its relationship to the Holy Spirit.

Vatican John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI, left, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is seen with the late Pope John Paul II during mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sept. 11, 2002. (Pier Paolo Cito/AP)

In practice, every Vicar of Christ has something of the CEO about him. But when it comes to Benedict XVI, who rose to power in the Vatican as its enforcer of orthodoxy, one always suspected his heart was more in administration than incarnation. And his announcement that he will resign because he can no longer perform his duties to his own satisfaction is proof enough of that. It is a responsible decision, and a worthy one. It is even brave, considering how little precedent there is for it. (The last papal resignation was before Columbus sailed to America.) But it is not inspiring.

The contrast with Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, is striking. The late pontiff was in much worse shape. At the age of 84, he was a year younger than Benedict is now, but afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, which petrified his features, palsied his hands and slowly, agonizingly stopped his once powerful and athletic body from functioning.

With his early exit, Benedict may salvage an uncertain legacy. Plus, he could get a hand in picking his successor. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports from Rome on the palace intrigue ahead.

Lest there be any doubt, the Vatican can still keep a secret.

On Monday morning Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world when he announced that he would be resigning from the papacy effective at 8 p.m. February 28. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said on Vatican Radio. No one, it seemed, saw it coming, although Rome was immediately abuzz with activity. 

Pope Resigns

Pope Benedict XVI (center) leaves a meeting of Vatican cardinals, where he announced his resignation, on Monday. (L'Osservatore Romano/AP)

But as Romans headed to Saint Peter’s Square to buy up Benedict XVI paraphernalia and journalists chased bishops and cardinals to decipher what it all means, the hierarchy of the Holy See buttoned up, no doubt already lobbying behind the scenes to put their preferred cardinal forward as Benedict’s replacement.


The Pope Resigns. Good Decision.

The world has too few young-old workers--and too many old-old ones.

I'm not a practicing Catholic, so I try very hard not to have opinions on the internal politics of the Vatican.  But the Pope's announcement this morning that he would resign seems worth commenting on, because it was a good decision, and a worthy one.  The Pope recognized that he was too frail to continue performing his duties as the spiritual leader of his church, and he stepped down so that the Church could elect someone who can.  

That's a very hard decision to make.  89-year old Senator Frank Lautenberg is currently embroiled in a spat with Newark's Mayor Cory Booker, who has begun openly campaigning to replace Lautenberg in the Senate.  (Lautenberg implied that Booker needed a "spanking" for his impertinence.) Keith Humphreys points out how absurd Lautenberg's indignation is:  

The “spanking” story calls Booker “ambitious” (contrasting him, one assumes, with the world’s many non-ambitious politicians), setting up the standard narrative: A pushy up-and-comer who won’t wait his turn thinks an old person can’t be an effective elected official. Other likely stories to come will cover how Booker will have to allude to his “energy” without turning off senior citizen voters who think he is making age an issue.

What the press ought to do instead is communicate reality: The burden of proof is entirely on Lautenberg to demonstrate that he isn’t too old to be an effective senator until the age of 98. Extrapolating from life table data, a 92 year old has only a 1 in 6 chance of living to 98, and that’s the combined rate for males and females. And those who do live to 98 have an extremely high rate of significant physical and/or mental decline. It should therefore not be some awkward responsibility for Cory Booker to hint vaguely about “new ideas”, “vigor” etc. as a way to gingerly raise the age issue. Rather, the press should put the question straight to Lautenberg: “Senator, if you are re-elected the odds are very low you will survive your term at all, much less do so in good health. Is that fair to the people of New Jersey when there are certainly other politicians in the state who could do the job?”. That keeps focus on a legitimate question that the public has a right to have answered (whether Booker brings it up or not).

Holy Catholic Church

Read the Pope's Full Statement



Via Vatican Radio, here is the full text, originally released in Latin of course.

Pope Benedict XVI will be resigning later this month. His resignation marks the first since Gregory XII in 1415. Via Vatican Radio, here is the full text of his announcement.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both 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. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.


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