Today Pope Benedict IV (aka Joeseph Raztinger) announced his impending resignation, the first of any pope since the 15th century, citing physical weakness and exhaustion. While I have no doubt this may be the proximal cause of his resignation, I ask you to forgive me a bit of speculation. Perhaps the ultimate reason this pope has decided to be the first to resign in six centuries is the weight of the scandals he leaves behind.
I will let Christopher Hitchens, in a 2010 piece for Slate, lay out the Raztinger’s crimes:
In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy identified as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation trip to the mountains by a priest. After that, he was administered alcohol, locked in his bedroom, stripped naked, and forced to suck the penis of his confessor. (Why do we limit ourselves to calling this sort of thing “abuse”?) The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for “therapy” by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care. But it took no time for Ratzinger’s deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, to return him to “pastoral” work, where he soon enough resumed his career of sexual assault.
It is, of course, claimed, and it will no doubt later be partially un-claimed, that Ratzinger himself knew nothing of this second outrage. I quote, here, from the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a former employee of the Vatican Embassy in Washington and an early critic of the Catholic Church’s sloth in responding to child-rape allegations. “Nonsense,” he says. “Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”
For this Hitchens, among others, openly called for the arrest of Raztinger when he stepped outside the Vatican.
Detain or subpoena the pope for questioning in the child-rape scandal? You must be joking! All right then, try the only alternative formulation: declare the pope to be above and beyond all local and international laws, and immune when it comes to his personal and institutional responsibility for sheltering criminals. The joke there would be on us.
Protecting child rapists is what Benedict will most likely be remembered for, but this is nit from his only scandal. Recall if you will the slew of documents leaked by the pope’s own butler for, in his words, “the good of the church.” The documents revealed smaller sins including corruption and bribery.
Perhaps these are the reasons Ratzinger has resigned. Considering the fact papal resignation is itself a scandal, it is a fitting way for this pope go.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this gem from Hitchens himself: