A pope emeritus?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Editorial, General, Issue 2 (March/April 2013), Volume 21

‘Christ did not come down from the cross’ was the late Pope John Paul II’s response when questions were raised about his failing health and painfully obvious public suffering in the latter years of his pontificate. So how do we explain the surprise resignation announcement of his successor, Benedict XVI, in contravention of papal tradition (some exceptional medieval cases notwithstanding)? The ‘rules were made to be broken’ adage seems to apply—with the evolution of medical science people are living longer, but not necessarily with their full mental or physical faculties. But the same argument could apply to the evolution of social attitudes and the Church’s line on homosexuality, clerical celibacy and women priests.


Supporters have hailed his decision as one of great humility but there is a possible alternative and less benign explanation. Having carefully choreographed his elevation to the papacy in 2005, he seems equally determined to do the same with his departure in 2013. In spite of his protestation that he will have no part in the conclave to elect his successor and that he will live out the rest of his days quietly in a ‘cloister’ (in fact a four-storey building in the Vatican with an archbishop as private secretary), are we to believe that this arch-exponent of the closed politics of the Vatican’s ‘medieval baroque court’ (Hans Küng) will not continue to wield influence behind the scenes?

Benedict’s legacy is of more than just passing concern to Irish society generally (and not just to the Catholic faithful). During his papacy we’ve had the publication of the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports exposing widespread clerical sexual abuse and long-term cover-ups. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981, and from 2002 as dean of the College of Cardinals, he has been at the heart of Vatican attempts to cover up this appalling series of scandals, most notoriously in De delictis gravioribus (2001). Later, as pope, in response to a US lawsuit alleging a conspiracy to cover up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse, he sought and obtained diplomatic immunity. ‘Humility’ is not the word that springs to mind.


Tommy Graham

6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7


Copyright © 2024 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568