Helpless in the Vatican The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI
Part 2: Calls for Benedict's Resignation
Of course, the office of pope does not exist so that its holder can be loved by the whole world. After Pius IX died in 1881, a number of Rome residents tried to seize the coffin so that they could throw it into the Tiber River. Today, a few days after Easter, only the most devoted pilgrims are rallying around their spiritual leader. The rest of the world, shocked by the sheer scope of the abuse cases, looks to Rome with skepticism, and some are already calling upon Benedict to take responsibility for his sinning priests and resign.
In the Italian magazine MicroMega, Don Paolo Farinella, a Catholic priest, has already written an example of the kind of statement he believes the pope should make to Irish Catholics: "I come to you with empty hands to beg your forgiveness" -- for the strictness of the celibacy, for the conditions in seminaries and for the thousands of cases of child abuse. "I will withdraw to a monastery and will spend the rest of my days doing penance for my failure as a priest and pope."
It hasn't come to that yet, not by a long shot. Some 80 percent of Germans still cannot imagine Benedict following the example of an almost forgotten pope, Celestine V, who resigned in the 13th century because he no longer felt able to perform his office.
Nevertheless, the question remains as to why nothing seems to go right anymore for this once-celebrated pontiff.
'A Humble Worker in the Vineyard of the Lord'
It is the tragedy of a man who had set out to write books and, only near the end of his life, was summoned to assume the herculean office at the Vatican. At the beginning of his papacy, Benedict XVI described himself, in all modesty, as "a simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
To date, however, Joseph Ratzinger has been more of a hobby gardener in the vineyard, rather than a landscape architect or someone who cuts off fruitless vines.
He has incurred the suspicions of the secular world and the skepticism of other religions, but he has not found a way to address this opposition. Again and again, after each new scandal, each misunderstanding and each new blunder, his actions seem forced. He lacks his predecessor's ability to always find the right symbolic gestures. The charismatic John Paul II led the church at the height of the American abuse crisis, but it did not diminish his popularity. Even before his death, as he allowed the world to participate in his process of dying, crowds flooded into St. Peter's Square in Vatican City to be close to him.
Of course, what English author G.K. Chesterton wrote in the early 20th century still holds true today. "At least five times," Chesterton wrote, "the Faith has, to all appearance, gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died."
Some may find comfort in Chesterton's remark.
Derision for Religion
Nevertheless, many Catholics find their pope's actions painful to watch, not because they consider him incapable or even unlikeable, but because they cannot look on as this extraordinary man gets in his own way. The members of the "We Are Church" movement, in particular, have turned away from Benedict.
According to a poll conducted for SPIEGEL by pollster TNS Forschung, 73 percent of Germans believe that the pope's handling of abuse cases in the Catholic Church is "not adequate."
Following the revelations about clerical misconduct, the disenchantment has, in many places, turned into aggression, malice and, in some cases, cheap derision against all things religious. In the last few weeks, a tone of contempt for the Catholic Church has emerged in online forums throughout Germany.
In one forum, a contributor wrote: "The fact that the Church only admits what it can no longer deny shows that the Vatican only regrets one thing, if anything: the fact that the priests were caught."
Another contributor wrote: "The institution of the Church is a morally depraved club of old men. One needs to distance oneself from this organization as clearly as possible."
What's Wrong with the Church
There is also no lack of recommendations relating to the future of the Church, both from believers and non-believers. Suddenly everyone knows what the Church has done wrong in decades gone by: the celibacy and the exclusion of women from the priesthood; the hierarchy of old men and the persecution of any efforts to liberalize the theology; the blind condemnation of contraception and birth control in the poor regions of the world; the eternal lack of understanding of homosexuality; the mistrust of technology and modern culture; and the constant needling and provocation aimed at the Protestant churches, Judaism and Islam.
Ratzinger the theologian has defended the doctrines and precepts of his church again and again, often cleverly and with exquisite scholarliness. In doing so, he has cited the teachings of the Church fathers, the councils and the entire Holy Scripture.
For a time, he enjoyed the undivided goodwill of the German press. Even Hamburg's arch-Protestant weekly newspaper Die Zeit softened its otherwise skeptical view of Rome.
Nevertheless, Benedict's message did not reach its intended audience. The pope lost his close connection to his wards. The master of the word failed to convince the public of the legitimacy of even one of his positions.
This may have something to do with the public -- or the positions.
In any event, the Germans' goodwill toward "their pope" was short-lived. In fact, most of his fellow Germans have long immersed themselves in their own personal belief system. Although they clearly retain the desire for a metaphysical source of comfort when life becomes difficult, they prefer to dispense with the institution and its requirements.