In a move that surprises a great many people, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Ratzinger, has announced that he will abdicate his throne (he is, after all, the monarch of the Vatican) and step down as pope at the end of the month. The timing is odd, with Lent and Easter on the way.
There has immediately been much speculation as to why. He says that he is simply getting too old, at 85, to carry out the duties of the office, but that has been true of dozens of popes in the past and none of them stepped down. Popes simply don’t resign their position, they stay the pope until they die. So that fuels speculation that perhaps the decision is linked to the ongoing sex abuse scandal, which revolves a great deal around his own behavior as cardinal in ordering bishops not to involve the police in handling any priests who molested children. We may never know for sure, of course.
The College of Cardinals will meet to choose a successor, a process over which Ratzinger may have a good deal of influence, but it is unlikely they will make a decision before he formally steps down at the end of the month. And that means that I will be the only infallible person in the world from that time until the new pope is sworn in (or whatever it is they do). I’ll do my best to handle the pressure.
The whole notion of papal infallibility is absurd to the core, especially since he’s only infallible at certain times, when he’s speaking “ex cathedra.” That means “in the chair.” So apparently he can make mistakes if he’s sitting on a barcalounger or a futon.
But all joking aside, let’s have a balanced view of this man. I think he should be in prison for the cover up of so many child-raping priests and most of the dogmas of the church that I don’t laugh at, I despise. But he was also outspoken in his support of universal access to health care, for stronger anti-poverty programs, against the death penalty and for more open immigration policies. I’ll give credit where credit is due on those things, even while hammering him for nearly everything else.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: