Published on 11 Feb 2013

The Pope's resigned, so?

It’s probably the most innovative thing he’s done as Pope. Something no other Pope has done in over six hundred years – resign. Old age and frailty are the public explanation, and at 85, who’s to say there may not be a considerable element of truth in it.

Some part of the journalist in me has been a Vatican watcher ever since I was posted to Rome in the year of two dead Popes – Paul VI and John Paul I.  I have reported from each of the three Pope selecting conclaves since.

I travelled extensively with John Paul II. Many of us aboard his first Papal adventure, to Santa Domingo and Mexico, mistakenly believed that charisma doubled for radical change. It didn’t.

Little did we know that behind the iron curtain there beat in the Polish Catholic heart a deep conservatism. John Paul II may well have been a good footballer and skier, and may well have come to the priesthood late enough to have had a girlfriend, but he was no radical.

Under that long Papacy little or nothing was done to address the corruption and money laundering for which the Vatican Bank was long suspected. But even the discovery of the body of Roberto Calvi hanging from beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London in June 1982 failed to address the scale of corruption inside Vatican City.

Calvi, the head of Banco Ambrosiano had been doing big business with both the Vatican Bank and the Mafia at one and the same time. Although the coroner concluded that Calvi had been murdered, the five who were tried in Rome for his death were all acquitted.

Allegations of corruption in the Vatican surfaced again when the Pope’s butler leaked the content of the Pope’s private files revealing more dubious goings on. The butler has been pardoned by the Pope and is a free man, though perhaps unsurprisingly now a somewhat silent one.

Some say Benedict has a better record of dealing with the church’s child abuse epidemic. In truth, compared with the legacy of failure on the issue from his predecessor, he was almost bound to do somewhat better.

For the rest, Benedict has satisfied the devout with his prayerfulness, but history may judge that his enthusiasm for winning the Papacy may not have provided the church with the vigour and insight over the need for change that the church perhaps needed.

And I haven’t mentioned contraception and the implication that the church’s teaching has on the spread of AIDS in the developing world.

One problem the church may face is that Benedict has not been inefficient in appointing cardinals in his own relatively conservative mould. Six more red hats were awarded as recently as November 24th.

Sixty two of the eligible cardinals who will vote on a successor are Europeans. The other 58 are from all over the world with small blocs of national support, but without the kind of clout the Europeans and the 10 American cardinals will be able to muster to influence the outcome.

Finally let’s not forget the feast of pageantry we are in for. No funeral of course – but the romance of the grey smoke signals for each failure to agree a Pope and the magic moment with white smoke when the have one. The senior cardinal coming out onto the deis of St Peter’s declaiming ‘Habemus Papam’ (We have a Pope!).

I remember that moment when John Paul II was chosen: ‘Habemas Papam: Suo nome — Karol Wojtyla’. ‘My god’, cried the man standing next to me in St Peter’s Square, ‘they’ve chosen a WOMAN!’

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36 reader comments

  1. Ray Turner says:

    Question is, what on earth will a retired Pope do with his time…?

    Will Channel 4 News ask for an interview with the former Pope, when something noteworthy happens within the Catholic Church…?

    I doubt you’ll get the interview, but its amazing to think that its a question that could possibly be asked…

    1. Greg Spink says:

      To Ray Turner

      At the ripe old age of 85, does he need to be doing a great deal in his retirement?

      Regards
      Greg Spink

    2. Philippa says:

      The Pope will retire to a monastery – this is what is usually meant by the phrase he used, “a life of prayer.” Once there he will give no interviews to anyone ever again, to his own immense relief. He may write a little on topics such as “Prayer”, but nothing on social or political issues. By all accounts he will want to rest a lot.

      There is no protocol on retiring Popes, but he will no more pronounce on current issues than a retired Catholic archbishop will criticise his successor. The new Pope will be able to go on much as he would have done had his predecessor died.

  2. Andy Howie says:

    I think, if this Pope has proved anything about the Papacy is that it’s Church of Rome that controls the Pope rather that the other way round.
    I also think that all the Cardinals know how the game is played, toe the party line.
    Anything of any note coming out of the Vatican has been as a result of it’s hand being forced, such as with Calvi, P2, Mafia and the Vatican Bank.

  3. Florije says:

    I thought the last Pope resigned in 1415? So it’s not “over six hundred years”, it’s just under. Accuracy Above All, Snow.

  4. H Morgan says:

    Surely a little too early to make a sweeping statement that the Pope has done very little in the way of innovative stuff during his time.

    So he didn’t transform the Catholic Church into a believe-nothing, anything goes, pseudo atheist outfit that would please the Dawkins worshippers at the BBC, Guardian and Channel 4? Is that what you were expecting?

    No, as long as we have Pope’s like Benedict, there will be a church for people to go to when they want to hear Christ’s message, and want a value system that is based on eternity rather than current fads.

    1. jon snow says:

      A belief system that did not manage to deal with the epidemic of priestly paedophilia H Morgan spare us..have a car for the victims..the most unspeakably anti-Christian behaviour that reached right into the episcopacy itself and found tolerance in Benedict when he was a Cardinal with responsibilities in this area – allowing elder paedophile priests to retire quietly..and others to return to clerical duties despite their crimes against humanity. And the consequence of celibacy? never preached by Christ; the consequences of banning contraception; both introduced relatively recently in the Catholic church’s long history. Finally the corruption in the Pope’s own fiefdom of Vatican City..never addressed. I worked for more than a year in a Catholic mission school in Uganda with two fantastic saintly priests but it did not blind me to the short comings of their faith.

    2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      What would your father have said Jon?

    3. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Having fun today arguing with Jon Snow. I think your reply to H Morgan was unfair.Morgan (and I do not know the official title) was pointing out the wealth of spirituality by following a tradition.On year working in Uganda hardly equates to many lifetimes worship of God through the vatican. I would also add that the shortcomings are not in the faith , but the establishment where the present people involved act in BAD faith.

  5. Steve Willis says:

    I still don’t understand why the Pope has a butler or bishops live in palaces.

    Didn’t Jesus tell people to give up everything and follow him?

  6. Duncan says:

    Knowing the Vatican’s aptitude for a good old cover-up, you can’t help but think there is scandal involved!

    I suppose it just paves the way for another one. The secular World hopes for a young, liberal changeling – but we all know it will just get lumped with an old, conservative pope-mobil jockey.

    Why not get Catholics across the globe to elect their pontiff?

  7. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    I am scared of Christian churches being pulled down for fear that other more corrupt religions may gain greater power.

  8. shawaman says:

    Whether planned or not, I think this event shapes up to the unification of Europe under the holy roman empire, Europe cannot be fully united and cannot prosper without Vatican. All this is leading to the greatest event in human history which is TSCOJC!!!!

  9. Liam says:

    Totally uninformative, frivolous piece.
    Snow, you are an ignorant, uncouth anti catholic bigot.

    1. jon snow says:

      Liam wonderful christian sentiments? I think not. Love thy neigbour..as thyself..indeed love thine enemy. Is this what love?! Sorry mate but you can do better than mere abuse.

    2. Meg Howarth says:

      Jon can obviously defend himself, but why such a crudely abusive comment, Liam, which adds nothing to the debate.

    3. Orlagh says:

      If looking for anti-Catholic bigotry, see C4 News on the evening the Pope retired.
      The newsreader behaved like an over-indulged adolescent, who wore his most surly face during the item on the Pope. I wished Jon Snow had been given the job of covering the retirement – as least he would have behaved with dignity. The coverage itself treated the Pope, a person of integity, great spirituality and intelligence, like some kind of criminal. After the news, they wheeled on some so-called writer, who was equally abusive, and who misquoted what the Pope had said whilst in office. I expect anti-Catholic sentiment in England, but see now that every half baked idea from any idiot who wants to attack Catholics, is given credence, and air time. Everyone is an expert!!
      I watch in amazemnet as the notion that child abuse is peculiar to Catholicism, is mis-sold day after day, news items after news item. As recent rumours of “inappropriate behaviour ” by a Catholic dating back as many as 30 years, are printed by hacks, ( under no pressure to reveal their source) organised gangs in this country are still making their fortunes from the vile trade in sexual slavery. This is happening NOW, but where is the outrage?? . Oh I get it, the gangs aren’t Catholic !

  10. Chris says:

    Having seen the number of comments posted on this subject it’s quite obvious nobody really cares about the pope’s retirement or the next pope elected, because as anybody with half a brain knows, it’s all despicable nonsense. Please check out the likes of Christopher Hitchens on youtube and wake up!!

  11. G. McNamee says:

    Many Catholics will find the phrase ‘runners and riders’ disrespectful and trivialising when referring to possible successors to the Chair of St. Peter. John Snow is an experienced and balanced journalist who should know better!

  12. Meg Howarth says:

    And on this day – lightning strikes St Peter’s dome at Vatican on day Pope announced resignation – Filippo Monteforte: pic.twitter.com/I1ACC1m9

  13. mic says:

    Deos a young handsome pope not have the knowledge and the wosdom;

    Can we break fromt he steretype?.

    If a young handsome one is recruited; he can stay int he job until his 80’s, especially of he’s committed

    1. Philippa says:

      “especially if he’s committed”

      “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps.” ?

      But seriously – after JP1 died the Conclave chose a young (by their standards) and conspicuously fit Pope in JP2. And after 15 years many cardinals were vowing that they would never have anyone as young again – it seems that a Pope who is too long in the job may start re-modelling the job in his own image. A Pope who would last 50 years probably seems like their worst nightmare to the Curia.

      If you take B16 as a sort-of after-thought for JP2, then by the time it came to elect B16’s successor there was (I think) not a cardinal eligible to vote in the Conclave who had not been appointed by the old regime. It’s how attitudes become “bedded in” to the fabric of an institution. There was never a chance of a “liberal” Pope (open to women priests or non-celibate clerics or common-sense attitudes to contraception) since those who might have elected them were never given a vote.

      Still, a Jesuit Pope may prove to be a very interesting phenomenon.

  14. Philippa says:

    Jon, I see that your article on Benedict spends half its time talking about John Paul II – that too is a judgement of Benedict XVI. You’d think that the conclave which elected him was not asking God who should be Pope, but rather the ghost of Karol Wojtyla.

    Now perhaps the Church can move on and work out what it wants to do post-JP2.

  15. Richard Davies says:

    Yet again another cynical, one-sided anti-catholic view of a church whose presence in the poorest parts of the world and the work undertaken by thousands of health workers and teachers is very rarely mentioned.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Must second Jon’s response re ‘charity begins at home’ ‘put thy own house in order’ etc, and to Richard re sex-abuse – a feature of all religions, and none, it’s true, but seemingly on an institutionalised scale in the celibate Catholic church. I’d add to his list contraception and abortion, and the appalling abuse of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.

      BTW – I too worked at a catholic-run school in rural Tanzania while a VSO so have some first-hand experience of seeing the church in action.

  16. jon snow says:

    Richard I worked in a catholic mission school in rural Uganda for more than a year..The two priests I worked with were exceptional men in every way. But that doesn’t blind me to the realtity that in the Pope’s home domaine there is alleged corruption (currently being investigated by Italian state police) in the Vatican Bank and has been ever since I was accredited to the Vatican as a journalist in the late 1970’s. That is money which could otherwise have gone to aid the church’s work precisely where I was working. I guess that renders me a cynic in your eyes, or maybe an anti catholic too. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  17. anon says:

    Enforced celibacy for the leaders and priests of the Catholic Church has caused numerous problems.through the centuries and much covered up abuse of the rulings. Perhaps the first step should be consideration of the effects of this ruling.

    Also to deny the influence of women in the ruling hierarchy of the church is to virtually ridicule the role of women in society and condemn them to an existence as second class citizens within their religion with men assuming control over their lives and their role in their faith.

    Perhaps the reality of the many men and women in the Church who do practise birth control should be recognised as being indicative of a faith whose participants want a more twenty first century approach to their religion especially with the emergence of aids.

    Part of religion is about taking responsibility for behaviour.

  18. H Morgan says:

    Jon raises some fairly often raised points.

    Paedophilia is the not solely present in the Catholic church, it’s present everywhere and paedophiles will always be found, especially where they can get access and authority over children. There’s not a lot you can do to completely eradicate all risk. It would help if action was taken at the time to protect children, and it’s right to say that many of the incidents in the church were shameful and disgraceful. However, it’s also important to remember that the understanding of child sexual abuse 30, 40 or 50 years ago was not what it is today, people in other institutions subscribed to some of the odd and careless ideas around how to do deal with it that failed to protect children or see justice done. Times have moved on, people now understand this issue far better in every institution.

    The point is the church, i.e. the lasting institution left to us by Christ to spread the word, stands against child abuse. It stands against it for all time and in all circumstances and it is an immovable belief that the abuse of children is wrong. There is no possibility of Christianity ever being “pro” child abuse because we live by the word of God which by its nature is permanent. On the other hand, human beings on their own and without this point of reference can justify almost anything to themselves – including Nazism and Communism – both coincidentally very atheist.

    So ask yourself the question, if you really want to protect children, where are they safest? In a country that has a permanent super natural reference point, or one where people make their own morality?

    When research has shown continuously that children in broken homes (more of those now than ever) rather than lifelong marriages are more vulnerable to abuse, how is it justifiable to characterise child abuse as largely a problem of the conservative past or the church as an extension of that.

    We part company on the allegations that Pope Benedict didn’t do all he could – he has published a number of pieces that discuss the full history of how he combatted child abuse but it is clear that the church didn’t get it right and that has changed now.

    Many of the critics of the church are the same people who are damaging our society with their anything goes views – resulting in the crisis of divorce, broken homes and children being exposed to horrendous sexual imagery.

    As for priestly celebacy, again misunderstood by atheists who insist on lecturing on this. The priesthood is a vocation just like marriage, is anyone suggesting that sticking to marriage vows of faithfulness puts children at risk? And secondly, what kind of individual would stop being a paedophile just because they have a wife? It sounds rather like victim blaming along the lines of “they couldn’t help themselves”, surely this is rather odious?

    Celebacy means your priest has given their all to their vocation, they are married to the church every hour of every day and not comprimised by caring first and foremost for their wife. As a result, many of the greatest acts of heroism have been committed by priests.

    The role of women is another area that atheists struggle with. If you think women are second class citizens in the Catholic church I suggest you spend some time in it first rather than just looking at the gender of the priests, and report back. There is more to a church than the priesthood alone.

    The church has it’s fair share of sinners – most minor, some serious, but at the end of the day it would be criticised if it became an exclusive museum for saints. No, the church is a hospital for sinners.

    1. Philippa says:

      No one has seriously maintained that the Catholic Church has a monopoly on child sex abuse. What seems to be the case is that child sexual and physical abuse is more likely within the boundaries of institutions – and the Catholic Church has many of those.

      The problem with regard to Benedict XVI is that – to use the military phrase – it came to light on his watch, first as the man into whose in tray the allegations of child sexual abuse came and then as Pope.

      It was up to him to stop it. That’s what hierarchies are about – passing responsibility up the chain of command until it reaches someone who cannot pass the buck any further.

      The second problem bears a strong resemblance to Watergate and many other scandals, even down to the sordid Chris Huhne affair. It isn’t the crime that does the real damage – it’s the cover-up.

      Here Benedict’s responsibility is inescapable. He may not have had the capacity to make men good or even to supervise the bad ones to limit the damage they do to their victims. BUT he could have taken a much stronger line on the cover-up much, much earlier. The command should have gone forth from his office saying, “if there are allegations of improper behaviour towards a child, then the status of the man or woman involved – priest, nun or layman – must make no difference as to when they are reported to the police.”

      If that had happened then the church in Spain would not have said, “We weren’t going to hand a man over to the police until we had decided whether he was innocent or guilty.” Clearly they thought that reasonable – basically that the Church had the right to run their own laws and their own law courts independently of the laws of the land.

      Then there is the practice of sending a priest who was suspected of misbehaviour on to another parish – and fresh victims – so that his behaviour could be covered up.

      Almost worst of all is the small matter of now senior figures with in the church involving themselves in trying to intimidate or bribe the victims into silence to protect the good name of the Church.

      This Benedict could have stopped – and didn’t – and disciplined those involved and he didn’t do that either.

      And all this from the man known as “the Pope’s Enforcer.”

    2. Meg Howarth says:

      Bravo, Phillipa. Excellent comprehensive comment – particularly the highlighting of the shameful response by Spain’s Catholic church, of which I was unaware: a reminder to all of the dangers of selective religious criticism, eg Sharia courts. Separation of church and state is essential for the public good and – alas, some may say – for the protection of our children. A now-oxymoronic quote methinks: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Jesus could never have foreseen what’s being done by those who claim to speak in his name. (I’m an atheist – of course!)

  19. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    A Woman! The most often heard comment re a woman who fairly tries to compete and is about to win her case or argument is ‘put her down’

  20. Carlo Magno says:

    Jon – are the catholic church’s teachings implicit in the spread of HIV/AIDS, or is it human inability to follow those teachings that’s at fault? As you surely well know, the Church doesn’t just speak against contraception, but also in favour of monogamy, sex only within marriage and celibacy outside of procreation. Follow those teachings and HIV/AIDS would be obliterated. It’s a shame your educated mind and well researched programme’s output seeks to pursue a narrow, ill informed view on a group which counts some 1 in 6 of the world’s people as its population.

    Better, I suppose, not to have any teachings at all and let people just screw like rabbits, spreading HIV even faster? Or are you racistly assuming that people in the developing world are too stupid to be able to accommodate multiple teachings on sexual behaviours? Don’t judge others by your own standards!

    This might be a more eloquent way of expressing @Liam’s clearly exasperated, blunt, opinion.

    1. Philippa says:

      St Paul, IIRC, recommended marriage to such as have not the gift of continence – a second-class calling.

      It also has a strong recognition of the fallibility of humankind – the rite of Confession is, I always thought, a very good “selling point” for the Vatican Way.

      So having a “reserve position” for those who fall down on the way of perfection is an old tradition within the Church and one still very much alive today.

      Those outside the religious way also point out that monogamy, or fidelity within any sexual relationship, is a very good way of reducing your likelihood of catching HIV/AIDS.

      Then they say that, if you must have many sexual partners, at least use a condom. In fact, if you only have a few sexual partners, then you still need a condom, because it only takes one to infect you, and then you can infect “just a few” others.

      This policy is like the needle-exchange scheme. It does not encourage drug-use. In fact it goes along side a policing policy which operates a low tolerance of the sort of drug you inject. However, those who operate a needle-exchange scheme will tell you that providing clean needles doesn’t “encourage” drug use, or even signal a tolerance of drug use – but it may reduce the number of HIV patients.

      Pragmatism is usually a Catholic strong point.

  21. Mudplugger says:

    Joanne, my next-door neighbour, is a committed Catholic – I’m an atheist. I have more chance of becoming Pope than she does.

    But then, I’m already infallible,,,,,,

  22. brenda cusack says:

    jon – you were wondering if Benedict was having a crisis of faith talking about the Lord seeming to be asleep in times of choppy waters. He was referring to St Luke’s Gospel 8:22 – the calming of the storm and the injunction ‘Be not afraid, o ye of little faith”. This is how I understood it as a 70yr old lapsed catholic though the young cleric (a Doctor of Theology, I think) you asked the question of seemed to think it had something to do with the Church being a beautiful woman dressed in rags – confusion reigns!

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