For the first time in almost 600 years, the pope is voluntarily stepping down from his position as leader of the largest church in the world. The move marks an almost unprecedented opportunity for reform within the Church, echoing predictions made centuries ago about the institution's collapse. Whether these predictions are correct, the Universal Life Church Monastery has its own ideas how the Church can change and better serve its members.
Unlike popes in history who resigned to escape duty, Pope Benedict XVI cited his age and waning health. The 85 year-old German pontiff, noteworthy for his devotion to religious conservatism in the face of a rapidly changing, increasingly secular European social landscape, delivered his resignation in Latin to a small, private body of the Vatican Monday, 11 February: "I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he said, adding, "for this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter". Pope Benedict's resignation comes at a time when more European countries, like France and Britain, are proposing the legalization of gay marriage while banning crosses in the workplace and prayers at council meetings, while the Church remains shaken by accusations of clerical sex abuse.
Ratzinger's Office Implicated in Child Sex Abuse Scandals
Prior to his appointment as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger was the "Grand Inquisitor" of the old department of inquisition, now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One of the primary functions of this office is to investigate members of the clergy who are accused of illegal, immoral or indecent acts including allegations of child sexual abuse. However, rather than assisting law enforcement investigations, it now appears that Ratzinger's office was deliberately burying these inquiries.
As Grand Inquisitor, Cardinal Ratzinger demanded that all such abuse records were to be sent directly to his office, and nobody to this day has had a chance to review them. Many view the Church keeping these under lock and key as an immoral cover-up, and it certainly hasn't helped their image in the public eye. The question remains, is this Pope now seeking atonement for his sins? Or does he have a deeper involvement than we know?
Treaties with Fascist Governments
The Vatican establishment is no stranger to controversy, having engaged in several treaties with fascist governments including those of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
On February 11, 1929, the Holy See signed the Lateran Treaty, which made Vatican City a sovereign nation in exchange for the Pope's silence regarding the crimes of Mussolini's regime. Four years later, the administration of Pope Pius XI signed the Reichskonkordat,which allowed the Catholic Church to operate more freely in Nazi Germany so long as they did not interfere with German politics. Despite numerous German violations of the treaty, the Vatican upheld its end of the bargain and refused to publicly denounce the German government even as it began its extermination of the Jews.
In 2010, Pope Benedict blamed atheism for the crimes of Nazi Germany. This is odd considering Ratzinger's own history as a member of the Hitler Youth. As a young boy, Ratzinger was no doubt exposed to the anti-Semitism prevalent in German Catholicism in the early 20th century. Adolf Hitler himself was a devout Catholic, and frequently referenced his faith.
12th Century Prophecy Predicts Benedict Resignation, End of Church
The pontiff's resignation would seem to herald a prophecy made by the twelfth-century Irish saint, St. Malachy, who predicted that Pope Benedict's successor would be the Church's last, and that the end of the world would follow. However, suspicions over the prediction have been downplayed by Fr. Francis Lucas, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media: "It's not always exact (and) the end of the world has always been prophesied and lately, almost every two years or every year we hear about a prophecy about the end of the world" he said in Manila, although he did admit that "there could be a cleansing, a purging of the Church" through an interruption in the papal line of succession.
The point Fr. Lucas makes about a need for reform is a telling one. There are several basic things Benedict's successor can do to improve the Church's image and serve all of its members equally. Perhaps the most obvious of these is to create transparency regarding investigations into child abuse and increase accountability for abusers, working with local authorities to bring them to justice. This is of particular importance, given Benedict's last job in the Church. The ULC Monastery hopes this chance for modern reform and transparency will not be passed up.
Hope for the Future
Our Chaplain Br. Martin recently traveled to the Vatican, prior to the Pope's announcement of succession. With permission of the Vatican, Br. Martin was admitted to the very top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica (Peter's Tomb), where he offered his blessings for Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican Holy Grounds.
The Universal Life Church sincerely offers its prayers and good wishes to the future Pope. The Catholic Church needs new leadership and fresh thinking to survive in the 21stCentury. Unfortunately, there is fear that this may not happen, and that the next pope may truly be the last pope.
In this chaotic time of transition, we pray not only for our Catholic ULC Ministers, but for all members of the Catholic Church, worldwide. Although it seems unlikely the end of the world will be ushered in with the appointment of the next pope, the world is changing, and this means the Church needs to adapt, or fade away.