Editorial: The new pope must take on the Vatican

In his fight against vested interests, Benedict XVI retires defeated

Share
Related Topics

At eight o’clock this evening, Benedict XVI will climb aboard a helicopter and leave the Vatican for the last time as Pope. His legacy is a paradoxical one. Theologically conservative and institutionally authoritarian, he nonetheless demonstrated a pastoral sensitivity and a willingness to engage with a world which is increasingly secular, at least in Europe and the US. Ultimately, history may remember him for his resignation – an act which redefines the papacy as a job, rather than a vocation. And future popes who are not up to the job will come under pressure to retire. His final act may, therefore, turn out to be the most modernising of all.

Benedict’s papacy has been marred by the scandal that originated in clerical sexual abuse but culminated in systematic institutional cover-up. What was intended to protect the Church’s reputation undermined its moral authority. The departing Pope has been firmer in dealing with abusers than is generally supposed. But he has done it behind closed doors, thereby reinforcing the impression that the Church cares more about self-preservation than it does about promulgating the values of the gospel. If he was a new broom, he swept in the old ways.

In his fight against the Vatican’s entrenched bureaucracy, Benedict XVI retires defeated. It became clear that he had been outmanoeuvred five years ago, when he was persuaded by Rome’s vested interests to move the reforming Archbishop Viganò – who was clamping down on waste and corruption – and pack him off as papal ambassador to the US. More recently, although the Vatileaks scandal was presented by the Church as simply a staff member on the make, it emerged in court that the Pope’s butler passed secret papers to a journalist out of concern that underlings were pulling the wool over the pontiff’s eyes.

Many believe that Benedict decided on his shock resignation on the day that three cardinals presented him with their report into the Vatileaks affair. It is said to reveal extensive Vatican infighting, with one faction reportedly a gay mafia of high-ranking officials involved in sex romps in a sauna. Certainly, the Pope has locked the dossier in his safe with instructions that it is for the eyes of the next pontiff only.

The new pope will not be the liberal many progressive Catholics desire. The 115 voting cardinals are a gerontocracy. They have earned their places by dint of long service to an institution whose core values are hierarchy and orthodoxy. They will not vote for a candidate likely to overturn Church teaching on the interwoven doctrines of contraception, abortion and sexuality. A Church that does not yet even treat women as equals is far away, indeed, from supporting marriage between two men.

Yet there will still be key differences between the contenders. Some have more open attitudes to other Christians, Muslims and Jews. A pope from Africa or Asia might reinforce the Church’s commitment in the fight against global poverty. Some candidates will reinforce Rome’s siege mentality against secular values; others will institute a wider conversation. There will be those who want a smaller, purer Church, and others seeking a more inclusive end to the polarisation of traditionalists and progressives within the laity.

What is essential, though, is that the next pope is committed both to reforming the dysfunctional Vatican civil service and to creating greater transparency in its workings. And that will require not merely commitment but also a track record of delivery in diocesan administration. Without effective change to Rome’s internal machinery, the next pope – whatever his intentions – will be hamstrung by its self-serving bureaucracy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links