Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Investigation into the motives behind Pope Benedict XVI's resignation

At 12:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on February 19, Wikileaks released 3,698 emails from Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (better known as Stratfor) pertaining to the Pope and the Vatican.  This follows John Ratzinger’s February 11, 2013 announcement of his resignation from the papacy effective February 28, 2013.

The 3,698 Stratfor emails released by Wikileaks can be found here.

The internet is abuzz in questions and speculation as to why the Pope has decided to step down from his position in Rome.  And it’s a question worth asking.  After all, according to Wikipedia’s entry on papal resignation, only five popes have resigned with historical certainty.  Not one of the last 59 popes preceding Ratzinger resigned.  And when he steps down on Thursday, it will be the first time a pope has done so in nearly 600 years. 

So why is Ratzinger stepping down?

In a statement released by the Catholic Church, Ratzinger said that “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

This announcement wouldn’t raise any red flags if Ratzinger were, say, a volunteer firefighter.  But a volunteer firefighter he is not.  He is the figurehead and spiritual leader of a religion with 1.2 billion followers, and he was elected to the post under the assumption that he would serve as the Pope until death.  That’s what he agreed to, and it’s exactly what those tapped for the role have almost always done, except in extreme cases of scandal and intrigue (and often, they have remained popes even despite extreme scandal and intrigue (See John Paul II, who issued a letter to Irish bishops in 1997 urging them to defy the government’s orders and not turn in child rapist priests).  And if you examine the histories of the popes who did resign, you’ll find that not a single one resigned because of old age.
The last time a pope resigned was in 1415, when Pope Gregory XII did so in order to bring an end the Western Schism, a dispute that occurred from 1378-1417, wherein multiple people claimed to be the true pope.

In 1294, St. Celestine V did so to protect the church after having fallen under the control of secular politicians.

The only other recognized resignations in the ordering of the popes were those of Benedict IX—the only person who ever served as pope on more than one occasion—who was briefly deposed from his first term, was bribed to resign from his second term after several reputed scandals, and who resigned from his third term as well—and Gregory VI, who had been accused of bribing Benedict IX to resign.  Both of these resignations occurred before the year 1050.

I’ve provided this background on the history of papal resignations in order to make the following point: popes don’t resign because of old age.  It just doesn’t happen.  So the fact that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation and has cited his old age as the motive should raise some eyebrows.
In case the Stratfor email leak held any keys to what’s going on here, I decided to take a look through the emails myself.  While I’ve heard about Wikileaks releasing internal emails from Stratfor employees, this is the first time I’ve taken a look at the actual contents.  In the past, I’ve just read news articles and summaries. 

What struck me pretty quickly when I started browsing the list is that most of these emails are basically just the text from news articles copied, pasted, and forwarded among their analysts.  While these analysts do, from time to time, offer actual analysis of world events, what little dialogue went on between Stratfor’s employees in the emails was often in the form of crude, perverse, and cynical jokes about some fairly disgusting realities. 

For instance, this email from Marko Papic to other analysts at Stratfor provides some analysis of an apparent reconciliation between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, while this response from one Bayless Parsley shows a disturbing ambivalence to real-life atrocities perpetrated by Church officials:

“what does the Catholic Church get out of this? maybe the Russians will send over a fresh batch of young boys to be "special" altar servers for the Vatican elite? (as a Catholic I am allowed to make this joke btw)”

In one email dated December 7, 2009, Papic noted that the Vatican was currently being investigated for money laundering.  The response from eurasia@stratfor.com is: “Not surprised… at all.”

Another email dated July 25, 2011 includes the text of a Guardian article noting that the Pope had recalled its ambassador to Ireland over the Cloyne Report, which indicated that Bishop John Magee—who, interestingly, has been a personal secretary to not one, not two, but three popes—had deliberately misled the Irish government about the Church’s internal inquiries into children’s claims that priests were abusing them.

I haven’t had the time to read through all of the 3,698 emails in the leak, but while scandalous, each one of the aforementioned emails pertained to things that are already freely available in the news.  So while these emails served to inform me about some of the ongoing scandals within the Catholic Church, even after all of that I’m left with the sense that there’s something bigger going on here.
According to this Guardian article by John Hooper from February 21, 2013, La Repubblica, an Italian daily newspaper, reported that Benedict XIV decided to resign on December 17, 2012, the day that he received a dossier of “two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red” from a delegation consisting of the Opus Dei prelate and Spanish cardinal Juli├ín Herranz, a former archbishop of Palermo named Salvatore De Giorgi, and the Slovak cardinal Jozef Tomko, who at one point headed the Vatican’s department for missionaries.

This delegation was created to probe into the Vatileaks scandal.  Now, in case you aren’t familiar with the subject, a man named Paolo Gabriele, who had been Benedict XVI’s personal butler since 2006, was arrested on May 23, 2012 after confidential letters addressed to the pope and other Vatican officials were found in his apartment in the Vatican.  Allegedly, Gabriele leaked a number of such documents to an Italian journalist named Gianluigi Nuzzi, who later published them in His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, which, unfortunately, can as of yet only be purchased as a hard copy on Amazon.com, and even then only in Italian.  When asked by investigators, Gabriele said that he leaked them because of what he saw as “evil and corruption everywhere in the church.”

What the pope read in the dossier he was handed on December 17 that led him to decide to resign is anyone’s guess at this point, as the documents will only ever be read by two people: Ratzinger himself and the pope who replaces him, according to this NBC News article.

Interestingly, on Vatileaks.com, there is a February 25 article about the ongoing scandal surrounding the pope’s resignation, an incredibly damning paragraph of which I will reproduce below:

“In November, 1981, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II appointed him to the position of prefect of the ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’ (CDF), a notorious Vatican department previously called the ‘Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition’. Later, John Paul II put Ratzinger in charge of concealing thousands of charges of child rape and torture by Catholic priests that were streaming in from victims around the world. With a staff of 45 to assist him, Cardinal Ratzinger oversaw and controlled every single case of clerical sex abuse at the Vatican from 2001 until he became Pope in 2005. In that same year (2005), the ‘London Observer’ reported that Cardinal Ratzinger ordered the Catholic clergy not to pass any damaging information about paedophile priests to the press or law enforcement authorities. In a letter sent by Ratzinger to every bishop in the world, he ordered that all priesthood abuse and child rape allegations were to be investigated only in the Vatican, ‘in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office’ (‘London Observer’). The letter added that the reporting of incidents to outside sources was an offense punishable by excommunication.

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