Ten days ago, I wondered what could be the real explanation for Joseph Ratzinger deciding to become the first Catholic Pope in over 600 years to resign rather than die in office. Given that his predecessor had made a conspicuous point of staying in office, publicly visible, throughout a gruesome decline into death, Ratzinger’s claim that he was abandoning the position of papal infallibility simply because he was feeling tired didn’t ring true at all.
Now, the real story behind the end of the reign of the man who went by the pen name of Pope Benedict XVI. Vatican insiders are now dividing into camps, fighting for control of the Catholic Church, control over who gets to be the next pope. It is in this light that revelations about the actual circumstances of Ratzinger’s decision to resign are starting to leak out of the Vatican.
A report that came out yesterday revealed that Ratzinger’s official story about resigning due to the gradual effects of aging were a smokescreen. Italian newspapers are now reporting that Ratzinger chose to quit the papacy hours, if not minutes, after he was confronted by a group of elderly cardinals who had documented, in a 300-page leather-bound report, a network of extreme financial corruption within Ratzinger’s administration of the Vatican. The report also detailed how, at the same time that the Roman Catholic Church was bankrolling political campaigns in the United States to try to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage, significant numbers of the top priests in Rome had organized a system for providing each other with partners for brief homosexual affairs.
The report named names, providing, as La Repubblica put it, “an exact map of the mischief and the bad fish”.
Who might the biggest of the bad fish be? It’s significant that some sources within the Vatican suggest that the fighting currently taking place between factions of cardinals is centered over how to elect “a pope immune to blackmail”, implying that the current pope, and some of the people considered likely successors, are not immune to blackmail.
Every human being, Catholic and non-Catholic, has weaknesses. Not every human being, however, belongs to an organization that claims to have an exclusive link to the creator of the universe and a moral code that is indisputable. Making such outrageous claims of moral superiority makes the Catholic Church the legitimate target of extra attention when the truth about its moral failings is exposed.
The theology and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t seem to have been effective in purging the weakness of financial greed from its top leaders. Revelations of that systematic weakness make it difficult for members of the Catholic laity to tithe quite so generously in the future.
What’s worse for the rest of us is that we all, Catholic and non-Catholic, have been forced to endure the ungracious restriction of sexual self-determination maintained in American law at the insistence of a free-spending Catholic church led by people who seem to have believed that the suppression of homosexuality should only apply to others than themselves. It’s the top priests in Rome who seem to have been the worst “cafeteria Catholics”, doing whatever the hell they wanted while sternly lecturing the rest of the world.
If anything positive is likely to come of the meltdown of credibility in the Vatican, it is that Americans will finally allow their own values of equality, liberty, acceptance of diversity, and government free of religious interference to lead the United States toward a legal system less influenced by medieval prejudice.