Unless you’ve been living in a cave or, like so many people I meet on the bus, simply really busy working for a living, you know that Thursday night at 8 p.m. (Tucson noon), Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down voluntarily from the Chair of Peter. This is a big deal for practicing Catholics, Big Media, Catholic journalists and people who like to Tweet “Will the next Pope choose Prada?”
For Catholics serious about their faith, eyes are turned toward Rome because they’re concerned about the future of the Church and the man who might be chosen to lead it. From what I can tell, they are not that concerned over the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican. And yet I’m being asked about Vatileaks by various people, including some of my bus-riding buddies. So, here’s my two cents.
Quick nutshell background, not at all comprehensive: Last year sensitive documents were leaked from inside the Vatican. Huge breach of security which lead to Pope Benedict asking three cardinals to investigate. Investigation produced a huge dossier currently under lock and key that will be given to the new Pope. Italian newspaper reports last week that dossier reveals a “gay lobby” in the upper reaches of Vatican clerics and that those clergy were blackmailed by their consorts to leak documents. Since there were no sources quoted by the Italian paper, is any of this true?
“The common presumption remains that senior clerics were leaking documents,” said Rocco Palmo, a prominent Catholic blogger who himself walks a tightrope of getting information from inside the Vatican through confidential sources. I spoke with Palmo earlier this week via the wonder that is phone lines. “I don’t know about the veracity of the reports – no one has actually seen the dossier – but what we do know is that there are significant problems in the Roman Curia,” he said. “And after all these years of sex scandals, it makes it easy to believe that at least some of what is being reported might be true.”
Sadly, I think he’s right. I’ve reported on the Church in one form or fashion since my now 28-year-old son was in diapers. I’m no John Allen, (although I have dreams of buying him a cup of coffee someday) but like any Catholic journalist who built up a stable of sources, I spent a good number of years in the company of priests and religious sisters and I’ve heard my fair share of stories regarding double lives. Add to that everything we’ve learned (or not) over the past decade regarding the clergy sex abuse travesty, add the recent removal of the Scottish archbishop following claims of inappropriate relationships with priests and, well, really. We simply have to remove our blinders where some of this is concerned.
But, my questioners wonder, was the Pope involved and is that why he’s resigning? No, he wasn’t, and no, this alone wouldn’t cause him to resign. Why do I know he wasn’t involved? Because he wouldn’t have asked for an investigation if he was, and even the people I know who know him and don’t care for his pontificate agree that he, like all the popes of recent history, actually are men of holiness. And they don’t get one moment of privacy, as the Pope himself revealed in his final address early today, so it is pretty hard to get into any trouble. In my experience, the saying about an idle mind is the devil’s workshop is accurate. Evil needs two conditions in which to operate – privacy and free time. The Pope had neither.
As for this revelation pushing the Pope to resign, I find that hard to believe. That said, it probably was one of the proverbial last straws. For someone as introverted as Benedict is, realizing the house cleaning he’d have facing him after reading the dossier might have contributed to his honest assessment that, at 85, he just didn’t have it in him. At his age, most people are in a rocking chair reading a good book or watching Dancing With the Stars. I don’t blame him for wanting a rest.
And, frankly, I think he knows it is time. There have been complaints for the years decrying B16’s lack of management skills. I don’t know any cardinals, but I know a few bishops and priests who have cardinal friends and all of them say the Curia has been out of control for years – something about power corrupting, probably. It is time for new blood, and I really believe the Pope recognizes that.
For now, picking the future leader of the Church is up to the 117 cardinals who are eligible to vote, and, we pray, at least some influence of the Holy Spirit. The conclave won’t start until mid-March, but the cardinals should all be in Rome by Friday to begin consultations, and as of Tucson noon Thursday, the Holy See will be vacant until white smoke announces the new Pope. Everyone loses his job and we have a chance to start fresh. It is actually pretty exciting for those of us who care.
If you want the best reporting on what’s happening as it happens, you can do no better than reading veteran John Allen who is in Rome. Just bookmark his NCR page right now. He’s doing a cool Papabile of the Day blog examining the most likely candidates for Pope and his Conclave 101 is must reading in preparation for what’s to come. For a different take with behind-the-scenes information and – who knows? – a leak or two, Palmo’s Whispers in the Loggia blog is the go-to.