It only happens once every half a millennia, but on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement. A billion people are without a religious leader, gays and Muslims breathed a sigh of relief, and the global gerontocracy lost a leading light. By RICHARD POPLAK.
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Pontiff (Level 27 Payscale)
Ex-Nazis with a blind eye for paedophiles preferred.
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You couldn’t call him huggable. You couldn’t call him humourous, or “a fellow with a light touch”. The best you could say about the sixteenth Benedict is that he took the job seriously. Which is why Monday’s announcement, given in Latin and rapidly translated into seven languages, came as such a shock.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God,” said Pope Benedict, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry… in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
In other words, he doesn’t know how to Tweet. He then went on to the business at hand: “For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
Benedict, who was born in 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, was a relatively spry 78 when he was elected by fellow cardinals to the top job in 2005. He followed a popular predecessor into the Vatican, and suffered a bit from the comparison, mostly because he didn’t have “ended communism” on his CV. He is now a mere 85, which makes him a teenager compared to the likes of Robert Mugabe. Yes, another contemporary, Madiba, has retired from public life entirely, but politics and religion differ in this matter.
In a speech that the Vatican spokesperson said was free of strong emotion, implying that Benedict was capable of strong emotion, the pope insisted that he was done. It’s not a job that traditionally has an opt-out clause; nor does it offer golden handshakes and a cushy retirement package. The only way out has been in a box, at least since Gregory XII said “bugger it” in 1415, and subsequently ended the Western schism that saw many contenders vying for the Vatican.
But no one was clamouring for Benedict’s job –no one who counted, anyway. He made it quite clear, in a series of announcements over the course of the eight years of his papacy, that Muslims and gays were not on his Christmas list. Long a scholar of Catholicism, and once a reformer who later in life swung a hard right, he insisted that Catholicism was “true”, while other religions were “deficient” – a view he espoused in his much-loved (by rabid fanatics) Vatican document Dominus Jesus, published in 2000.
On the subject of paedophilia, Benedict gets a solid 3/10, which is bloody excellent by church standards. As a bishop in German, he wasn’t exactly Kojak-like in tracking down and defrocking priests who were known abusers. Indeed, he signed documents putting off a defrocking, in one case citing youth, and the good of the church as reasons to kibosh a proper punishment.
That this made him an enabler has done nothing, according to the church spokesperson—sorry, spokesman—to force him to step down. He hadn’t done anything wrong, see. Cover ups were standard practice, and what’s good for the church was good for its flock.
At the very least, the news comes as a boost for African inferiority complexes. The next pope will possibly be an African – betting sites have the odds on either Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, or Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze. Just like the ANC leadership, cardinals are not allowed to campaign for the post, but must be elected by one of their 125 contemporaries. Then, lo, a puff of smoke shall be belched from the Vatican belfry, and it’s the reign of Pope #266.
If it is indeed an African pope, then any notions of reform are completely out the window. Homosexuality, the ordaining of female priests, and anything that remotely smacks of reform shall be shelved for another era. The big day should happen sometime toward the end of March.
The RCC is a long running institution, and it isn’t going anywhere, a shock retirement notwithstanding. The pope is, um, retired. Long live the pope. Now pass the sacramental wine, and let’s get the betting on who is next under way. DM
Photo by Reuters.
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