When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Monday, citing ill-health, as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, he sent shock waves across the world, with many expressing both sympathy, and praise for his honesty.
But, putting aside the 85-year-old Benedict’s frailty, he also was at the helm of the 2,000 year-old institution’s possible greatest challenge since the Reformation: the pedophilia scandal that became a pandemic as it hit such bulwarks of Roman Catholicism, as Ireland and Poland.
When he visited the UK in 2010, for a historic four-day state visit, CNN noted that the “British people feel overwhelmingly that the pope has not done enough to punish priest who abuse children.”
Despite the world-wide condemnation of the scandal, and also the increasingly apparent cover-up, the church under Benedict’s watch began to act more like a multi-national corporation, than a religious body.
In their zeal to improve public relations, and regain the trust of the faithful, the Vatican went into auto drive as they actively fought against same-sex marriage; as they identified homosexuals as “intrinsically disordered,” a term that the Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith coined in 1987.
Some observers have noted that this was ironic considering the egregious presence of pedophilia priests that were protected by church officials, who transferred them to different parishes, often without knowledge of the new parish.
Adding to the litany of woes was the investigation of American nuns, for placing too much emphasis on social justice, and not enough on “gay marriage” and anti-abortion work.
One of the Pope’s contemporaries, noted Swiss theologian, Hans Kűng, noted in an interview with Jason Berry of the National Catholic Reporter, said “Many sisters are better educated and more courageous than a lot of the male clergy,” he said matter-of-factly. The Roman Curia “will try to condemn them.”
The result was that there were large demonstrations in front of churches, and with an unlikely union of baby-boomers, and white-haired matrons; a show of support that belied the belief that America had become less Catholic, at least in conviction.
Then anti-Semitism reared its ugly head as the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay described Jews as “the enemies of the church”, which brought widespread condemnation, and according to NBC News, Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardo, “reportedly said it was ‘absolutely unacceptable, impossible to define Jews as enemies of the church.’”
All of which showed that the Church is at the crossroads of an evolving society that is far less willing to look at the world, and especially human behavior, in a static manner.
Bill Tammeus, writing for the National Catholic Reporter noted that much of the criticism of the Vatican, labeled by Kűng as medieval remarked “the Catholic church today and the modern world of Protestantism seem incapable of getting in front of the currents of change. The very hierarchical structure to which Küng points with some disdain often seems to result in the church having to react to crises once they break rather than being in a position to prevent them by agile thinking and actions. (Vatican II can be viewed as an exception.) The sexual abuse scandal is but one example of this kind of failure.”
According to an October 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 20 percent of the population in the U.S. say that they are not religiously affiliated, an increase from 16 percent in 2008; albeit still higher than in Western Europe, where church attendance has plummeted for the last two decades.
Finally, it seems that Benedict, whose life as a quiet bicycling academic in Tubingen Germany, and who later gained fame as a talented theologian, simply, was not prepared to hold the reigns of the church as it struggled, both within, and without in the 2st century; and whose managerial weaknesses gained notoriety as his butler leaked his private documents to the press.
This is in direct contrast to the late John Paul II, whose tremendous energy, and papa-like pugnaciousness, was not dimmed by infirmity, or advanced age; and who greeted hundreds, and thousands of people worldwide, like a rock star, in the 1980s and 1990s.
Perhaps at the end of the day, Benedict knew this, on some level, and realized that he could no longer continue and try to be the Roman’s man in full.
To subscribe to these op-eds, and my other columns, please hit the subscribe button at the top of the page
Follow me on Twitter @dgrantchi