Pope decides to operate as mere mortal

Josef Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, announced Feb. 11 he would abdicate his papacy and position as Vatican head of state on Feb. 28. He’s the first pope to quit his job since Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict, 85, was elected in April 2005 when he was 78.

It’s unlikely there’s a Wallis War-field Simpson waiting in the wings like there was for England’s King Edward VI. Benedict, in abdicating and giving up his papal state of infallibility, said he would continue to serve the church “through a life dedicated to prayer.”

Official sources attributed the move to the pope’s frail health. He’s nearly blind in his left eye, has a pacemaker, has fallen several times recently and is unable to walk for more than a short distance.

Other sources suspect there are other reasons. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the decision was due at least in part to the contents of an internal report revealing significant adultery and theft problems in the Vatican.

La Repubblica’s report said the information was “all about the breach of the sixth and seventh commandments,” referring to commandments that followers neither steal or commit adultery. The theft reference may be about questionable practices at the Vatican’s Bank, which was hit with accusations of theft and money-laundering that forced its chairman to quit last year. In December, the papal butler was convicted of theft. Benedict visited him in jail and pardoned him.

Michael D’Antonio, author of Mortal Sins, Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, had a piece on Huffington Post headlined “Immunity for Rome’s Rottweiler: Why The Pope Resigned.”

Valid health reasons are certainly part of the story, D’Antonio wrote, “but they are the least relevant elements. More significant is the evidence linking crimes to the Vatican. In the abuse scandal, all roads do lead to Rome. By stepping down now, and allowing for someone untouched by the cover-up scheme to take his place, Benedict can save the papacy from a direct confrontation with criminal authorities. His choice is the perfect one for a man who reached the highest point in the clerical culture of privilege.”

In September 2011 at the Hague, sexual abuse victims presented 20,000 pages of documents linking the cover-up to the highest levels of the Vatican.

Ratzinger was at the center of the church response to the scandal as a cardinal heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “formerly the Inquisition,” D’Antonio wrote wryly.

— Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation