A shift in the Vatican? If you believe the Pope is retiring, you’ll believe anything

Plus, the so-called "Friends of Syria" have taken the worst of all possible courses

Share
Related Topics

And, so, farewell, Pope Benedict XVI. Or is it? When Holy Roman Emperor Charles V gave up all temporal power in 1556 and retired to a monastery (admittedly with a retinue of 50), it was to an austere establishment far from the seat of imperial power. Pope Benedict, by contrast, is retiring to a convent in the Vatican grounds. He has kept his white garb, the title of Pope Emeritus, and a private secretary who remains in charge of the private office of his successor. If that is an act of an ailing man determined to make peace with his maker, it is a very odd way of going about it.

One thing that His Holiness – as he must still be addressed – has achieved by his shock decision to relieve himself of the burdens of office is to give his move an air of almost saintly humility.

According to this version of events – widely subscribed to by the faithful and by religious commentators – here was a modest, bookish man who accepted the mitre of pope only with the greatest reluctance. He did his best to manage an impossible job and was finally brought down by a fractured Curia which his unworldly character was unable to master.

All that would be fine if he was a genuinely contemplative soul pushed into office. But this was the man who, for nearly 25 years, was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as the Inquisition is now called, a position right at the top of the Curia in which he now claims to be an innocent.

He was not known as Pope John Paul’s “Rottweiler” for nothing. Even aside from the question of protecting paedophile priests, he spent much of that time censoring and suspending those of liberal persuasion while making endless efforts to bring back into the fold the die-hard opponents of the Vatican II reforms who had left it.

No one who saw him on the balcony on his election as Pope giving the triumphal gesture of a footballer who’d just scored a goal could doubt he wanted the job. Once on the Papal throne, he determined to make the Church in his own image, appointing no fewer than 67 cardinals, nearly all of them traditionalist in their views.

The legacy he leaves is a conclave packed with conservative European cardinals, a Curia unreformed during his three decades of power in it, and a Church which the European young are deserting in droves. Meanwhile, the faithful are sorely tried by Benedict’s authoritarian orthodoxy on social and theological issues.

In the light of this, his final decision effectively to fire Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal O’Brien, seems less the decisive act of purging – which is how some have interpreted it – than a further example of the vicious infighting which is bedevilling the Catholic Church.

Indeed, it is very hard to see anything radical coming out of the election of a new pope, let alone the root-and-branch reform of the Curia which so many are now asking for. The European cardinals, who still make up the majority of the conclave, are much of Pope Benedict’s own mind. Too many of them are from the same theological college background as himself, with the same lack of parochial experience. None is known as an institutional reformist.

On the other side are the cardinals from the developing world. While their flocks are on the increase, their chief challenge is not decay at the centre but the competition from the evangelical churches. Their interest will be in populist appeal among the masses, not institutional reform in Rome.

His Holiness Pope Benedict will continue to use his influence, of course, but not in the interests of change.

Promises aren’t enough for Syria

The meeting in Rome of the somewhat superciliously named “Friends of Syria” has only just made it to the conference hall after the main opposition group in Syria said it wouldn’t attend because of the paucity of Western help to its cause. John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State, was forced to say that the US would offer more.

It’s a nonsense spat. The insurgents in Syria know that they can’t afford to snub a group of countries on their side. The US State Department, however determined to avoid direct military involvement, fears that the longer the war goes on the greater the danger from fundamentalists. So what we are getting is what we have seen so often in the past: a creeping entanglement in which the West, while refusing to put boots on the ground, ups the “non-lethal” assistance with body armour, training and supplies, and becomes enmeshed not just in bringing down Assad but trying to determine who will come out top when he falls.

This is the worst of all possible courses. Body armour isn’t the answer. Mounting a major humanitarian effort to provide food and shelter to the refugees is.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
Illegal African migrants arrive at the port in the Tunisian town of Zarzis, some 50 kilometres west of the Libyan border after Tunisian fishermen rescued 82 African migrants off the coast of the town aboard a makeshift boat bound for the Italian island of Lampedusa  

Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

Andrew Grice
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own