Call it “end of an error,” call it what you will, but the Pope is resigning.
Frankly, I didn’t know they were allowed to do that. But, y’know, whatever.
So, I really don’t know much about this stuff, but just as an outside observer who remembers Pope Benedict XVI coming to power at the height of the Bush years, I have to think this sends a broader message about conservatism in general. Benedict XVI (the kids on the intertoobz are calling him “B16”) ascended to the head of the church when the world was enmeshed in a sharp, muscular conservatism, a rightward lurch that seemed as inevitable as it was overwhelming. Roll back the calendar to 2005 and remember what it was like then: we had a second Bush term, Karl Rove gloating about his “permanent Republican majority,” gays reeling from marriage equality bans in state houses all across the country, and the unraveling of abortion rights. A staunch Catholic, John Roberts, was named chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. People like Ann Coulter were regularly on Sunday panel shows. Rick Santorum was still a United States Senator, not a political punchline. The pro-Iraq war government of Tony Blair was re-elected for a third time.
That was the view from the U.S. and the appointment of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the position of Pope just seemed to cap a global turn to the right.
Remember this? Remember President George W. Bush granting Pope Benedict VI immunity in a molestation lawsuit? Bush met with B16 three times while he was in office (he also met with Pope John Paul II three times — more Papal visits than any other U.S. president).
Ratzinger was criticized by liberals for being a conservative reactionary, a vocal culture warrior on stands against women’s rights and GLBT rights, even a Nazi. The scandal of the Church’s pedophile priest cover-up would peak under his reign — not especially ironic, since B16 was a key player in the cover-up. Then there was the “Vatileaks scandal,” which saw the arrest of the Pope’s personal butler. Stories like this point to a weakened Papacy and a church in utter disarray:
The Vatican is disintegrating into dozens of competing interest groups. In the past, it was the Jesuits, the Benedictines, the Franciscans and other orders that competed for respect and sway within the Vatican court. But their influence has waned, and they have now been replaced primarily by the so-called “new clerical communities” that bring the large, cheering crowds to Masses celebrated by the pope: the Neocatechumenate, the Legionaries of Christ and the traditionalists of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter — not to mention the worldwide “santa mafia” of Opus Dei.
They all have their open and clandestine agents in and around the Vatican, and they all own real estate and run universities, institutes and other educational facilities in Rome. Various cardinals and bishops champion their interests at the Vatican, often without an official or recognizable mandate. At the Vatican, everyone is against everyone, and everyone feels they have God on their side.
The U.S. media didn’t cover the Vatican banking scandal or any of the other “Vatileaks” revelations, so today’s news is mostly a rehash of Vatican talking points, while pretending none of the scandals ever happened. This is par for the course.
U.S. Catholic bishops have been stomping their feet a-plenty over U.S. healthcare policy, so to say what happens in Rome doesn’t affect us is ludicrous. I don’t profess to know anything about Vatican politics but I have to wonder what will happen if a real reformer ascends to the Papacy through all the mess and splinter groups currently sniping at each other in Rome. Perhaps a social justice champion from South America? It will be interesting to see.