Pope Benedict XVI recently announced that he will resign at the end of February; a report that shocked many, including hundreds of millions of dedicated Catholics around the world. His abdication, the first by a pope in nearly 600 years, left people wondering the true reasons for his resignation, speculating as to who may replace him, and pondering what it will mean for the future of the Catholic church. Let’s examine those very questions now.
First, why did he resign? Benedict himself alluded to his age and physical deterioration as reasons for his departure, stating, “I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Personally, I admire that if it’s true. I don’t understand the necessity to hang on as little more than a figurehead when it is clear you are no longer up to the task. Exactly what good did Pope John Paul II do for anyone when he was being wheeled to and from the balcony, barely able to lift his own hand or even speak? There are certainly a great number of things I disagree with Pope Benedict about, but resigning due to age or health isn’t one of them.
However, many people feel that is not the reason at all. While there has been talk since the day Benedict was selected that he didn’t want the job; that he had been looking forward to retirement after John Paul II’s death, there is a growing consensus who feel the number of scandals surrounding the Church played a big part in his decision. They may very well be right. Allegations of corruption within the Curia, as well as the increasing number of lawsuits against he and other Vatican officials in the International Criminal Court has surely weighed heavily upon him. With his age and health becoming more and more of a factor in his mobility and ability to travel, it is very possible he is stepping down “for the good of the church,” and to simply let someone else deal with it all.
I will not be shy. It has been my hope for some time that Benedict pay a legal price for the way he handled the clergy sex abuse scandal. Beginning in 1981, as Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One of his main responsibilities was in dealing with the sex crimes against children. As BBC News reports, “His refusal to decisively address the epidemic – and discipline Church officials who protected predator priests – was exacerbated when he became Pope.” The bottom line is that the abuse of children went on longer than it should have, and many child predators to this day have yet to pay for their crimes, specifically because of Benedict’s cover-ups. While little would please me more than to see him arrested and brought to trial, the unfortunately reality is that it is extremely unlikely to occur. The sight of Benedict in handcuffs would spur international outrage, and the political blowback that would come from it ensures he will live out the remainder of his days in peace and freedom – a luxury that many victims of abuse do not get to enjoy.
So, what will happen once Benedict XVI steps down? Who will replace him? According to Irish bookmaking website, Paddy Power, the three top contenders for the papacy are currently Archbishop Angelo Scola, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Scola, an Italian, is not likely to lead to any positive change in the church’s view of LGBT people, that’s for sure. Bryant Harris of PolicyMic reports that Benedict “appointed Scola to the diocese in Milan precisely because the church saw his two predecessors as too liberal and deviant from Vatican doctrine.” With the issue of gay marriage looking more and more like the civil rights issue of modern times, a Scola papacy will clearly not be one that history will look back upon favorably.
Nor will Cardinal Turkson be a champion of gay rights. Turkson, a Ghanian who is a strong candidate to become the first black pope, gave support to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill which, among other Dark Age-caliber sanctions, includes life imprisonment for “the offense of homosexuality,” as well as the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” It was this latter punishment that earned it the name “Kill the Gays Bill.” Cardinal Turkson, speaking at a United Nations summit, said that these anti-gay laws are “commensurate with tradition” in African culture. Furthermore, he states that, “When you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights?” Of course, he also believes that, when in comes to HIV/AIDS in Africa, condoms are “helping the disease spread.” A bright mind, he is not.
What, then, of the Cardinal Marc Ouellet? Will this Canadian be able to bring a progressive attitude to issues of social justice? Not likely. In fact, Ouellet will be no friend to women, since he has already sparked angry reactions from pro-choice activists when he said that abortion was unjustifiable, even in cases involving rape.
He has also condemned gay marriage, calling the issue “a big crisis, not only a moral crisis, but an anthropological one.” And that whole child sex abuse scandal? Don’t look for him to be a lot of help there, either. Frances Bedard, a victim’s rights advocate who has brought her own lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Quebec City says that, “Cardinal Ouellet is responsible for the silence, the indifference, the inaction of the Catholic Church in Quebec when it comes to sexual-abuse victims.”
But don’t think Ouellet will be upset if he is not elected to be the Bishop of Rome. He calls the job itself “a nightmare,” adding that, “I see the work the pope has to do. It is a huge responsibility. Nobody campaigns for it.” One must wonder if this mindset isn’t common. While becoming pope must largely be seen as an honor among the faithful, the toll it takes is also a high one.
The fact remains that revolutionaries just don’t become pope. Progressive voices in religion are a rarity and are not likely to be given much of any backing in the upcoming papal conclave. While the truth is that there are many Catholics who do not support the stance of their leaders on issues such as birth control and gay marriage, as well as many more who are sickened by the cover-ups of child sexual abuse in the church, there will be no positive change made by the Vatican unless there is a social movement to create it.
One possible hope for such a movement may lie with Cardinal Schonborn of Austria. Though he dismisses natural selection, as well as other key scientific facts, he has been outspoken against Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, for disregarding media reports of sexual abuse by clergy, saying he “deeply wronged” the victims. Schonborn has also said that the Catholic church needs to “give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships.” Is it a revolution? No. But it would be a start. Unfortunately, when last checked, Cardinal Schonborn’s odds at becoming the next pope were an unlikely 14 to 1.
Progress, it seems, will have to come from the people.