Change of Pope – will the Church change?

Pope Benedict XVI (85years) has announced his resignation from his post on Monday, February 11th 2013. He will remain as Pope till 8pm on February 28th. During the period of interregnum from 28th onwards, the Church will be administered by the chamberlain. A successor to Pope Benedict XVI would be elected before end of March 2013. The Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will summon the 120 cardinals worldwide to Rome for a conclave to elect the next pope. Pope Benedict will take no part in the conclave. The Pope has abdicated the chair citing frailty for voluntary resignation, a rare phenomenon in the Catholic world.

Internal affairs of the Catholic Church – including corruption, sexual indiscipline among Vatican authorities have forced the Pope Benedict to resign.  Change of leadership became inevitable as it was evident that the Church is not positioned to engage the external world and convince the masses with its Christian teachings.

Response to external challenges

Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts to address sexual abuse issues within the Catholic Church have drawn mixed reviews. Pope, according to many critics, only paid lip service to a tragedy in which more than 6,100 priests are accused since 1950 for sexually abusing the devotees. More than 16,000 victims identified to date and $2.5 billion in settlements and therapy bills for victims, attorney’s fees and costs to care for priests pulled out of ministry from 2004 to 2011. In September 2012, Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was found guilty of failing to tell authorities about a priest suspected of sexually exploiting children. Finn was the first U.S. bishop convicted of protecting a priest in a sexual abuse case. Finn remains in office.

His critics accused him of delaying reforms by nearly half a century and not pursuing dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians. Vatican was in the center of a controversy in 2012 with leaked documents alleging corruption in the Vatican’s business dealings. Later it was found that the pontiff’s butler, responsible for dressing him and bringing him meals, was the source of leakage. The Pope was criticized as a Nazi by Susan Sarandon.

The retiring Pope maintained rigid stance of the Church with respect to abortion, and priest celibacy. He was insisting on Jesus as the only path. He was neither a liberal, nor a reformer. In fact, he decided to resign not able to speed up evangelical activities around the globe with his ageing body. The next Pope would be younger, modern and therefore more dynamic. But, will he be able to make the Catholic Church more tolerant? Stopping insisting Jesus as the only solution? Although, such a possibility is desirable, it may not happen. The Church and its next Pope would, in all probability, continue to preach that Jesus as the only Savior. Such preaching continues to create resentment among non-Christians, especially among Hindus and Muslims although for different reasons. While Hindus fear the intolerant attitude that emanate from the exclusivist idea and its undesirable consequences, Muslims resent rejection of Allah and the Prophet as an implication.

Internal corrupt affairs

A television show “The Untouchables” on the respected Italian private television network La 7 on Wednesday, Jan 25th 2012 night exposing corruption, abuse of power and a lack of financial transparency at the Vatican supported by credible evidence.  The TV show was an investigation report by journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi based on several letters by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano during 2011 sent to superiors including Pople Benedict.   Carlo Maria served as deputy-governor of Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011 and was the number two officials in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city-state’s gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure.

According to the information revealed from the letters, Vigano discovered a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices.  For example, the cost of the Vatican’s larger than life nativity scene in St Peter’s Square was 550,000 euros in 2009.  In another instance, Vigano observed a loss of two and a half million dollars to Vatican in a single financial transaction.  Vatican-employed maintenance workers were demoralized because work was always given to the same companies at costs at least double compared to those charged outside the Vatican. Being an advocate of transparency and competition, Vigano initiated a series of cleansing operations immediately after his appointment in the Vatican City. In the case of maintenance of St. Peter’s Square, Vigano, after re-estimation of the costs, chopped 200,000 euros off the cost for the next Christmas. Vigano’ s cost-cutting and transparency campaign helped transforming Vatican City’s budget from deficit to surplus during his tenure.  But, a smear campaign against Vigano by other Vatican officials.  In 2011, unsigned articles criticizing him as inefficient appeared in the Italian newspaper Il Giornale. In the midst of allegations of inefficiency,  Viagano was removed on March 22, 2011 from the position of deputy-governor and was promoted as an ambassador of Vatican in Washington against his wishes, even though the term was to have lasted until 2014.

The letters on which the TV show was based were written to the top officials of Vatican by Viagano explaining the corrupt practices within Vatican and need to maintain the morale in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many departments.

Paolo Gabriele, who has been the pope’s personal butler since 2006, leaked the stolen documents from Church  to investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi during 2011-12.  He decided to leak the documents to fight evil and corruption and to put the Vatican back on track.

Vatican officials initiated an investigation about the leak and the allegations of corruption and Gabriele was arrested after other confidential letters and documents addressed to the pope and other Vatican officials were found in his Vatican apartment. Another parallel, high powered committee with retired Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, retired Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko and retired Italian Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi was constituted to carry out wide-ranging inquiry about the leaks and allegations against Vatican authorities.  Herranz was Opus Dei canon lawyer, Tomko was the former chief of the Vatican’s secret services,  and Giorgi was the former archbishop of Palermo. Pope Benedict had asked the cardinals, all former Vatican officials, to help him understand the reasons behind the leaks and the problems they appear to indicate. The committee had broad-ranging powers to question Vatican officials, including cardinals, beyond the purely criminal scope of investigation carried out by Vatican prosecutors against the butler.

On December 17, 2012 three cardinals presented the pontiff with the “Relationem,” a 300-page report which investigated allegations brought up last year by the so-called Vatileaks scandal.  The Relationem, consisting of two red, leather-bound volumes, contained the exact map of the mischief and the bad fish inside the Holy See. It all revolves around the breach of the sixth and seventh commandments. The seventh commandment — “thou shalt not steal” — would refer to the affairs of the Vatican Bank, IOR, which is under investigation for money laundering. The Relationem would also contain plenty of details on the breaking of the sixth commandment — “thou shall not commit adultery” or “impure actions.”  Report reveals how some high-ranking members of the clergy were blackmailed by laymen with whom they entertain relationships of “worldly nature.” There are details about a gay network which organized sexual encounters in villas and saunas in Rome as well as in the Vatican rooms. The report reveals grouping of people, within the Vatican hierarchy, with similar sexual orientations.

The contents of the report convinced the Pope Benedict about the necessity of a younger leader for the Catholic Church.  Benedict will privately meet the three authors of the report on the last day of his papacy. The Relationem will be handed over to the new Pope. The old Pope will spend his rest of his life in private praying.

“Certainly there are divisions and there have always been divisions as well as violent contrapositions along ideological lines. These aren’t new but yes they have a weight.”

– Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz the Opus Dei canon lawyer who headed the cardinal’s commission confirming internal politics among Vatican authorities


  1. A news report by Philip Pullella- Reuters  – Thu Jan 26, 2012
  2. Times of India, The Hindu, Indian Express and other media sources

 Courtesy: Aseema English monthly