He likes cats, playing the piano, and praying. But will a retired Benedict XVI really be able to stay out of his successor’s hair?
You know what it’s like when someone takes over your old job—especially if you stay in the same company? It’s tough not to look over your successor’s shoulder and offer unwanted advice. Now imagine the new guy has taken over your direct line to God.
Pope Benedict XVI, center, walks with his staff prior to Sunday Mass in Bicentennial Park near Silao, Mexico, on March 25, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)
When Pope Benedict XVI retires on February 28, he will be the first pontiff in 600 years to leave his post by choice. His predecessors have almost all died of natural causes, leaving their legacies for others to shape. (In some cases they were murdered, like Gregory V, who was poisoned, and the first pope, St. Peter, who was crucified.) But Benedict is sticking around. The question, then, is just how visible he’ll remain.
The Vatican has already said he will not be involved in electing his predecessor; sometime after his last day Benedict will head to the papal resort of Castel Gandolfo in the Roman foothills to wait out the conclave, seen as a sign that he doesn’t want to be involved in the short term.
To replace pacemaker three months ago.
For those of you craving a scandal, you may be disappointed. Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his retirement yesterday, reportedly had secret heart surgery three months ago to replace his pacemaker. The Vatican released a statement saying that the pope has been in fact wearing a pacemaker for some time, but that his health is good. The newspaper II Sole 24 says that the 85-year-old has had a pacemaker for the past 10 years. The surgery went well and the pope maintained his schedule, but it reportedly made him think about whether he was fit to stay in power.
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.
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.
Ratzinger should have retired when the church’s sex-abuse scandal erupted—but he continued to protect predator priests, writes Geoffrey Robertson.
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 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.
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. (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?
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.
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 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 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).
Via Vatican Radio, here is the full text, originally released in Latin of course.
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.
Detain or subpoena the pope for questioning in the child-rape scandal? You must be joking! All right then, try the only alternative formulation: declare the pope to be above and beyond all local and international laws, and immune when it comes to his personal and institutional responsibility for sheltering criminals. The joke there would be on us.
The case for bringing the head of the Catholic hierarchy within the orbit of law is easily enough made. All it involves is the ability to look at a naked emperor and ask the question "Why?" Mentally remove his papal vestments and imagine him in a suit, and Joseph Ratzinger becomes just a Bavarian bureaucrat who has failed in the only task he was ever set—that of damage control. The question started small. In 2002, I happened to be on Hardball With Chris Matthews, discussing what the then attorney general of Massachusetts, Thomas Reilly, had termed a massive cover-up by the church of crimes against children by more than a thousand priests. I asked, why is the man who is prima facie responsible, Cardinal Bernard Law, not being questioned by the forces of law and order? Why is the church allowed to be judge in its own case and enabled in effect to run private courts where gross and evil offenders end up being "forgiven"? This point must have hung in the air a bit, and perhaps lodged in Cardinal Law's own mind, because in December of that year he left Boston just hours before state troopers arrived with a subpoena seeking his grand-jury testimony. Where did he go? To Rome, where he later voted in the election of Pope Benedict XVI and now presides over the beautiful church of Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as several Vatican subcommittees.
In my submission, the current scandal passed the point of no return when the Vatican officially became a hideout for a man who was little better than a fugitive from justice. By sheltering such a salient offender at its very heart, the Vatican had invited the metastasis of the horror into its bosom and thence to its very head. It is obvious that Cardinal Law could not have made his escape or been given asylum without the approval of the then pontiff and of his most trusted deputy in the matter of child-rape damage control, then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Developments since that time have appalled even the most diehard papal apologists by their rapidity and scale. Not only do we have the letter that Cardinal Ratzinger sent to all Catholic bishops, enjoining them sternly to refer rape and molestation cases exclusively to his office. That would be bad enough in itself, since any person having knowledge of such a crime is legally obliged to report it to the police. But now, from Munich and Madison, Wis., and Oakland, come reports of the protection or indulgence of pederasts occurring on the pope's own watch, either during his period as bishop or his time as chief Vatican official for the defusing of the crisis. His apologists have done their best, but their Holy Father seems consistently to have been lenient or negligent with the criminals while reserving his severity only for those who complained about them.
Follow our reporters Barbie Latza Nadeau and Christopher Dickey in Rome as Pope Francis takes over. See tweets, photos, and videos.
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