Why Benedict XVI Quit

We do live in interesting times – a pope quitting on the job, something that hasn’t happened since the Renaissance. It is time, therefore, for idle speculation, which is all one can do when it comes to the Vatican. Even the highest-ranking cardinals may not know the mind of the Pope, so we can expect quite a lot of speculation coming out of Rome as well.

For what it is worth, I expect there are several reasons Benedict XVI took this unusual step.

1) His health has been deteriorating and he is probably on a downslope that involves debilitation and death. He was as close an eye-witness as possible to the decline and death of John Paul II. That was a spectacle that attracted a great deal of ghoulish interest from the press and the faithful, however much John Paul II felt he was setting an example of stoicism in the face of personal suffering (and in his case, it helped his odds of being viewed as a saintly figure). Benedict XVI is a much more private person and does not want to be an object of either ridicule or veneration while his body gives out on him in public.

2) He was supposed to be a caretaker pope, keeping the seat of St. Peter occupied while the College of Cardinals deliberated on selecting as his successor a much younger man who could serve for 20 or more years and revitalize the church, which is in serious decline in Europe and North America. He’s now served nearly 10 years, well past his sell date, and will probably live at least five more in a semi-invalid condition. He may have even made a commitment to key members of the College of Cardinals that if elected he would resign after ten years.

3) He sees this step as a gift to the Church, setting a precedent that will now allow popes to gracefully exit the world stage, just as cardinals are required to retire at age 80.

4) He has lost control over the Curia. This is the most serious of his problems. He has tried to break the stranglehold that the Italian cardinals have had over the Curia for centuries, by bringing in non-Italians to run key Congregations (departments). This has failed. The pushback has been terrific, culminating in the disgraceful theft of his personal papers by his butler. It is as if Machiavelli has been let loose in the Vatican, with intrigue and whispering becoming the order of the day as quotidian responsibilities are neglected. He has clearly shown himself to be incapable of controlling the Curia with the iron fist necessary, and obviously people under him do not respect him as a leader. He probably feels he has disgraced the papacy, and some of the older cardinals may have urged him to resign rather than let the institution of the Vatican (which is after all a government) fall into ruin.

There will be considerable speculation coming out of the United States that the revelations in Los Angeles regarding Cardinal Mahony’s obstruction of justice in the face of pedophile criminal behavior will also implicate Benedict XVI. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he clearly knew all about this situation. Nothing can harm him now; he is a head of state. The worst that can happen is that his reputation is damaged, but the Church has already been severely hurt by these scandals and Benedict XVI’s reputation sullied to a great degree. I doubt this was high on his mind in making his decision, but one never knows.

In any event, we will soon have a new pope, and Lord only knows who that will be.

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Numerian is a devoted author and poster on The Agonist, specializing in business, finance, the global economy, and politics. In real life he goes by the non-nom de plume of Garrett Glass and hides out in Oak Park, IL, where he spends time writing novels on early Christianity (and an occasional tract on God and religion). You can follow his writing career on his website, jehoshuathebook.com.

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Interesting, your closing sentence; what difference does it make in the end?
    It would seem history is rather condemning as regards the honesty and integrity of Rome over the last centuries.
    And further, I see no reason to think the next century(?) will be any different.
    Some things just need to go away and Catholicism is a stellar example of one of those things, IMO.

  • A lot of people are saying he resigned so that he could effectively choose his successor. I doubt that. He doesn’t need to interfere in the process. He has appointed nothing but conservatives to the College of Cardinals, and the whole institution is filled with John Paul II clones. The next pope will come out of this reactionary bunch. The odds of someone even more conservative than Benedict XVI – like one of the cardinals from Africa – should not be discounted.

    Admittedly, it is a bit hard to get more reactionary than Benedict XVI. He brought back papal clothing from the 19th century, restored the Latin Mass, and now he has announced his resignation in a letter to the cardinals written entirely in Latin (which I bet not one cardinal can read). If he were truly interested in modernizing the papacy he would have made his announcement on Twitter 🙂

  • Your Item #4 speaks volumes; ’twas ever thus, I guess.

    By pure coincidence I was watching “The Borgias” last night, marveling at the depth and breadth of the surreptitious warfare that went on then and how little has actually changed. Now that Herr Benny is hanging up his embroidered slippers and beehive helmet, what, does anyone suppose, are the chances of the new guy making it a priority to sell a few pieces from the Vatican Museum and feed Africa for a year?

    Sorry. Just daydreaming and wishful naivete.

  • Spiegel Online

    02/11/2013 07:57 PM
    Church in Crisis
    Pope Benedict Polarized More Than Unified

    A Commentary by Peter Wensierski

    Germany celebrated when Joseph Ratzinger was chosen pope in 2005. Eight years later, however, many are glad to see him go. He was a deeply polarizing figure in his native country and blocked the Catholic Church from launching a badly needed renewal.

    Ever since his appointment in April 2005, Benedict XVI has been a divisive figure. The euphoria over the election of a Bavarian pope that first swept Germany has long since receded. With all due respect to the first pope to voluntarily step down in hundreds of years: In the eight years he held office, the pope did more to polarize than to unify Catholics in his country of birth.

    Benedict XVI never managed to grow beyond his former self, the conservative professor of theology Joseph Ratzinger. The pope did not build bridges as a Pontifex Maximus should. Here in Germany, his election led to an increasing split within the Church. On the one side were the disappointed advocates of long-overdue reform. On the other were the fundamentalists, the upholders of tradition and self-appointed guardians of the faith who wanted to turn the clock back to before the Second Vatican Council and sought salvation in an authoritarian and hierarchical Church of the past.

    Lost Trust

    Some in Germany are already speaking of a schism within the Conference of Bishops. During his years in office, Pope Benedict boosted the reactionary wing of the Catholic community, with its frequently obscure splinter groups, more than his predecessor did — be it with his approaches to the ultra-conservative Pius Brothers, his scolding of renegade theologians or his fondness for the Traditional Mass. His efforts to address the abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church all over the world were too little, too late. Neither in the United States, Ireland nor Germany did he and his bishops manage to regain the trust subsequently lost.

    Under a German pope, no less, the Church’s reputation arrived at an all-time low in Germany in early 2013. According to a study conducted by the Sinus Institute, even the most loyal Catholics don’t trust their own bishops. Once hailed as a sophisticate, the head of the Church morphed into a leader who lurched on the international stage from one unfortunate mishap to another. Even close friends and former colleagues have said that a man like Joseph Ratzinger is not cut out to head a community of a billion people.

    For those Catholics in Germany who couldn’t abide criticism of Benedict XVI’s course, the pope was a powerful ally. Those who secretly tested the adherence of Catholic hospitals to official liturgy, those who clandestinely recorded the sermons of priests in Germany to trip them up, those who sought to cast aspersions on a theology professor in Rome — these self-proclaimed guardians of belief always sent their denunciations directly to Benedict and his secretary, Georg Gänswein. They knew that consequences for those they accused of wrongdoing would be prompt.

    more at link

  • Resigning Pope No Longer Has Strength To Lead Church Backward
    News • religion • News • ISSUE 49•07 • Feb 11, 2013

    VATICAN CITY—Citing his advancing age and deteriorating health, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy Monday, saying he no longer possessed the strength and energy required to lead the Catholic Church backward.

    According to the 85-year-old pontiff, after considerable prayer and reflection on his physical stamina and mental acuity, he concluded that his declining faculties left him unable to helm the Church’s ambitious regressive agenda and guide the faith’s one billion global followers on their steady march away from modernity and cultural advancement.

    “It is with sadness, but steadfast conviction, that I announce I am no longer capable of impeding social progress with the energy and endurance that is required of the highest ministry in the Roman Catholic Church,” Benedict reportedly said in Latin to the Vatican’s highest cardinals. “While I’m proud of the strides the Church has made over the past eight years, from thwarting AIDS-prevention efforts in Africa to failing to punish or even admit to decades of sexual abuse of children at the hands of clergy, it has become evident to me that, in this rapidly evolving world, I now lack the capacity to continue guiding this faith back centuries.”

    “Thus, I must step down from the papacy,” he added. “But let me assure every member of the Church that the Vatican’s commitment to narrow-mindedness and social obstruction will long live on after my departure.”

    more at The Onion, of course 🙂

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