04 March 2013

Why Did The Pope Resign?

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned three weeks ago, many people and nearly every media commentator reacted with surprise.  After all, no Pope had done so since Gregory XII in 1415 (on 4 July!).  

However, as we all know, people have 20/20 hindsight.  So, some have suggested that "the signs were there all along" that Benedict XVI would not hold his office for the rest of his life.  In his first encyclical, he wrote, "It is God who governs the world, not we.  We offer him service only to the extent that we can, for as long as He grants us the strength."  Five years later, in his book, he made his views on service even more explicit:  "If a pope realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."

Other "signs" that he would resign have been cited, such as naming his closest aide as head of the papal household and elevating him to an archbishop in December.  This essentially guaranteed his future after Benedict was no longer Pope.  Whether the Pope did that, or other things, with the plan of abdicating his position may never be known.  

However, others have suggested that there were darker reasons for his resignation.  Naturally, when any powerful person does something that no one else in his or her position had done in centuries, the conspiracy theorists start to work overtime.  And it just happens that the Italian press has more than its share of such folks.  However, some of the speculation has come from this side of the Atlantic, too.  Some have said that the Pope quit over a report that alleges gay prelates were being blackmailed by a string of male prostitutes in and around Rome.  

Speaking of sex scandals...Yes, there are rumors that he's resigning because he was accused of not doing enough to help resolve, or of helping to cover up, the problem of pedophile priests.  It's been suggested that the still-unfolding scandals would reveal wrongdoing in his home diocese in Germany. I also found this interesting story about the founder of the Legion of Christ and his relationship, not only to Benedict XVI, but also to John Paul II.

Whatever his reasons for resigning, it's hard not to think that there's trouble brewing and that Benedict's successor, whomever he may be, will have his work cut out for him.  I don't expect him to reverse the Vatican's stance on same-sex marriage or transgender people, but one should hope that he will have the courage and integrity to deal with the problem of sexually exploitative clergymen.

As for transgenders:  Papal law says that any baptized male is eligible to become Pope.  Since the Church doesn't recognize sex changes, does that mean I am also qualified to be Pope?  Not that I want the job...