When's the last time a pope resigned, and at least semi-voluntarily at that?
Well, none since the Great Schism, which was non-voluntary, and possibly no voluntary ones ever, per Wikipedia.
Benedict cited his age, but that is surely only a partial factor. The ongoing sexual abuse crises, and the revelations that Benedict himself, when in charge of trying to clean up the mess under John Paul II, had done a half-assed, cover your priests' asses job, was surely a factor.
Per the first link:
The abuse scandals dominated his nearly eight years as leader of the world's Catholics. Before his accession, there had been scandals in the US and Ireland. But in 2010, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.The gist is, to me, that Benedict knew full well, long before coming pope, that the Roman Catholic Church in many countries around the world, and not just the US, had a ticking time bomb, or actually several.
The pope was personally affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly reassigned, allowing him in time to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people.
The flood of allegations represented a vast setback for the project at the heart of Benedict's papacy. The goal he had set for himself, and for which he was elected, was to launch the re-evangelisation of Europe, Catholicism's heartland: it was why he adopted as his papal name that of the continent's patron saint, Benedict of Nursia. But if the numbers of the faithful in Europe as the pope leaves office are fewer than when he was elected, then – surveys repeatedly indicated – it is in large part because of anger and despair in the Catholic laity over the sex abuse scandals. ...
Before he was elected to be pope, Ratzinger undoubtedly tightened the procedures for dealing with paedophile, hebephile and ephebophile clerics. But critics have argued that a letter he issued in 2001 to dioceses around the world did not make sufficiently clear the responsibility of bishops to inform the civil authorities. Their frequent reluctance to do so was a key reason why evidence of sexual abuse did not surface earlier.
Insufficient vigour in the pursuit of his aims was a charge also levelled at Benedict after he became pope. He showed no interest, for example, in introducing specific reforms to filter out potential abusers before they were appointed to pastoral care. As he made clear in his 2010 letter to Irish Catholics, he believed that the sins of the clergy were an expression of insufficient sanctity rather than a product of defective procedures.
It was not until the same year that he created a Vatican department charged with the mission that was originally central to his pontificate. Even then, the so-called Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation was viewed by Vatican insiders as lacking clout.
He may have been sincere in trying to address the bomb of actual sexual abuse, but he tried to lock, shut and bolt the door on the bomb of legal liability. And, as we've seen in places like Los Angeles, this fish clearly rotted from the head down.
So, not for nothing does he get the name Ratzi the Nazi from me.
With all of John Paul II's conservative cardinal appointments in place, and Benedict/Ratzinger heading the modern successor to the Inquisition, his succession of John Paul II was almost guaranteed. He should have been prepared to do more about the sex abuse issues than he did.
Next question is ... is that College of Cardinals, and the Roman curia, prepared to take the next steps, and to get a new pope who will?
And, semi-faithful Catholics in the developed world must surely also be wondering if they're prepared to elect a more socially liberal pope in general. And, if they'll look for one, liberal or conservative, with the undeniable charisma of JPII.
For those of us who are atheists but not Gnu Atheists, to the degree the RC can be a force for good in the world, Ratzi's successor has a lot of work cut out for him. On those issues above, as the RC in the developing world remains strongly socially conservative, one wonders if a non-Westerner will get the puff of white smoke.
I think it's probably still a bit early for that, but, since a 2/3 vote is needed, their could be a lot of horse-trading inside the conclave of red hats.
Bill Keller tells more liberal Catholics, "don't get your hopes up" for somebody like a John Paul I (not II, but I, of alleged poisoning conspiracy). He notes that more than half the cardinals that will elect Benedict's successor were appointed by ... Benedict!
Benedict ascended because the Church – rather like the Republican Party – has gradually marginalized its moderates. And while we are now hearing Republican voices call for softening the rhetoric (if not moderating the agenda), the Catholic Church has heard no such wake-up call. The Vatican has an even lower tolerance for dissent than the Republican Party – and is more willing to accept a smaller, coherently conservative base. Benedict himself said before his elevation to the papacy that a smaller Church might be a better Church.That said, speaking as a non-Gnu Atheist, you can always leave. Start a breakaway "American Catholic Church." Or vote with your feet enough to go to Mass less. And with your wallets enough to contribute less.
For example, Gary Wills is one of those Catholics who's beyond even the "cafeteria Catholic" stage, and I don't get why, if he wants to be religious and semi-high church and Western, he doesn't become Episcopalian or Lutheran. Or, if he wants to be even higher church than he is now, join Orthodoxy. I guess he prefers to keep kvetching rather than migrate. Talk about tribalism!
Meanwhile, speaking of Gnu Atheists, Slate has just reposted a 2010 column by Christopher Hitchens on the sex abuse scandal and coverup.
But, back to the non-Gnu that I am, and true skeptic.
In general, priests and ministers, taking all Christian denominations together, do NOT have a higher rate of being sexually abusive than the general adult population. However, they are in positions of trust, as are another stigmatized group, Scoutmasters, and a non-stigmatized group, school teachers.
That's not even counting incestuous sexual abuse, which makes up a clear plurality, at least, of sexual abuse in the US but is still largely taboo to discuss.
And, all of the above show that "stranger danger" is a myth that, if anything, is damaging itself when it comes from helicopter moms, especially, making them paranoid.
I'll talk more about this in a separate post.