A reader writes:
I was struck by the Pope’s resignation today as simultaneously profound and more of the same. For one, his act of resigning due to his being “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” (as you emphasized) can be take two ways: (1) He’s 85 years old, or (2) the weight of what he knows of the Church’s sex abuse scandal, having served as the Prefect of the CDF prior to his election, combined with the continued flow of information about this massive problem and its direct impact on the Church’s financial survival, has become too much for him to bear.
However, his abdication while still alive also gives him the power to anoint his successor virtually directly, ensuring the culture of denial, secrecy, resistance to progress, and emphasis on preservation of the Church over its people that his reign (and, indeed, his career) has personified. Color me ambivalent and leaning cynical.
There’s lots of speculation today that Benedict’s resignation is linked to some aspect of the child-rape scandal. I’d like to draw attention to what may be a supporting detail for that hypothesis I haven’t yet seen mentioned in today’s coverage: The effective firing of Cardinal Roger Mahony from all public duties by the Archbishop of Los Angeles on January 31. Though I’m no expert on the church, it struck me as extraordinary at the time that an Archbishop would be permitted to make such a public rebuke of a Cardinal. If the goal were to lower Mahony’s public profile, he could simply have withdrawn from those activities quietly.
It strikes me that we may be seeing ripples of something much larger moving under the surface. Perhaps it’s a sort of coup that reached critical mass among the church hierarchy – “Enough is enough.” Or perhaps something even more disgraceful is about to become known.
But Mahony will still help pick the Pope’s successor. Another reader:
The Pope resigns shortly after he’s burgled by his butler who he then pardons. Maybe it’s cuz I watched Mea Maxima Culpa last night but I simply cannot believe someone isn’t forcing him to do this as penance for something he covered up. There is some Godfather III stuff goin’ on here.
A survivor of sexual abuse writes:
In reading the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation as pope, I’m struck by the almost complete absence of any references to the actual survivors of sexual abuse by priests. Most of the coverage of the pope talks about his papacy and his orthodox Augustinian views. If articles refer to the abuse he presided over at all, they make a veiled reference like, “the abuse scandal overshadowed some of his papacy.” But the voices of the actual survivors are nowhere to be found.
As a survivor of sexual abuse by a pedophile, I know that this is one of the most common tactics used to silence us and deny us a voice: refuse to acknowledge that we exist at all. So often, when I’ve tried to talk about my experience, people refer to it as “that alleged incident” or “that thing that happened to you.” And this just makes me want to remain silent, knowing that my voice is insignificant and won’t be believed. On a much larger level, I see this happening with the Catholic Church.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if the Church is hopelessly lost, or if it can honestly take an accounting of its crimes and redeem itself. But I do know that any honest accounting can’t begin until the voices of the actual survivors are listened to and given a central place at the table. As long as we are pushed to the side and ignored, no real change can occur.
A small thing but it stood out for me in your take on Ratzinger’s early retirement. In your reference to ordained priests raping children, you twice used the word “monster” and “monstrous.” I’m reminded oddly of a course on the Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor from my bachelor degree (I did a minor in Catholic studies). My instructor mentioned the etymological route of the word monster, from the Latin monstrare. To show, to demonstrate.
The point was that monsters, understood in the medieval sense, pointed to an evil in need of grace. These crimes, these vicious, inhuman crimes, stand out as a sign in their own right to the evil the church has papered over in recent years with dense encyclicals: Thomist, intellectual straw. But the crimes are what the world has seen of the church. These monsters and their monstrous crimes stood as their own visible demonstration of the condemnation of the church, and Ratzinger’s theology could not cover it.
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(Photo: Worshippers attend a special evening mass at St. Hedwig Catholic cathedral following the announced resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. Pope Benedict XVI, born Josef Ratzinger in Germany, announced to Vatican clergy on Monday that he feels too physically frail to continue meeting the demands of being the Pope and will step down officially on February 28. By Sean Gallup/Getty Images)