Early yesterday morning, the news was announced that Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, will resign from his position. It amuses me greatly that a man “Chosen by God” has also chosen, himself, to retire. (Did God have no say in the matter?). Selected as head of the Catholic Church in 2005, Ratzinger has been the oldest pope in history to be elected. His decision to hand over his position has come as a shock to many, as it marks the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years. During his life, Ratzinger was a theological conservative, who sought to maintain the Church’s traditional positions on homosexuality and women priests, whilst also making extremely destructive remarks about the spread of HIV in Africa. Here, I shall outline the case against the Catholic Church’s dear old Ratzinger, exposing him for the reactionary and professional obfuscator that he was.
In 2010, during Ratzinger’s fifth year in office, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe; countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany. This served to deal great damage to Ratzinger’s already questionable reputation. When elected as the “Vicar of Christ on Earth”, Ratzinger was already chiefly responsible for the original cover up of the moral nightmare of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy, identified only as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation to the mountains by a priest. He was then given alcohol, locked in a bedroom, stripped naked and forced perform oral sex on his confessor.
This wasn’t “abuse”. This was child rape and torture. The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for “therapy” at the decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, who gave assurances that he would no longer have children placed into his “care”. However, Ratzinger’s deputy, vicar General Gerhard Gruer returned the priest to “pastoral work”, where he was able to resume his occupation of sexual assault. It was initially claimed that Ratzinger knew nothing of this outrage. Fortunately, Reverend Thomas Doyle bravely spoke out against this “nonsense,” saying that “Pope Benedict is a micro-manager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”
However, this wasn’t Ratzinger’s only attempt to protect child raping priests. Before becoming the supreme leader of the Church, and after his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, the department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic Priests. For those who missed the overtones of this title, this institution was formerly known as the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition (italics my own), and was responsible for creating and maintaining the Index Liborum Prohibitorum, a list of books and authors that the Vatican had prohibited Catholics from reading. In the same year, 2001, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every Catholic bishop, reminding them of the extreme danger they faced concerning the crime… of reporting the rape and torture! In this letter, the pope told bishops that the actions of the priests were only treatable within the church’s own jurisdiction, and that any sharing of evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. He went on to warn that anyone who broke this embargo would face the penalty of excommunication. This constitutes a key reason why evidence of sexual assaults did not come to the public’s attention earlier. Even worse than this, Ratzinger’s office even wrote its own private statute of limitations, stating that the church’s jurisdiction runs from the day the minor has completed the 18th year of age and lasting 10 more years. This further obstruction of justice suggests that if the church could manage to keep the victim silent for 18 years (plus 10), then the priest could get away with the crime. In doing so, Ratzinger has obstructed the course of justice, allowing child-raping priests to walk freely from the crimes they had committed.
Not only renowned for his obfuscation over the rape scandal, Ratzinger was also well known for his reluctance to consult others. He was considered intellectually remorseless, earning the title of “God’s rottweiler.” This perhaps explains his inability to consult others on the impact his words and decisions may have on the world beyond Vatican city. Initially elected on promises to spread Catholicism (he took his name from Europe’s patron saint: Benedict of Nursia), Ratzinger has failed to kindle a greater religious following. Despite attempts to re-evangelise Europe, Catholicism’s heartland, the pope committed several blunders which brought the Catholic church into direct opposition with several other religious groups. The pope managed to outrage Muslims during a scholarly lecture at his old university in Regensburg, using quotations that suggested that the contributions made by the Prophet Muhammad were “only evil and inhuman.”
In addition to this, Ratzinger also managed to anger Jews by encouraging wider use of an old liturgy which includes a Good Friday plea stating that Jews should be “delivered from the darkness.” Additionally, he made the mistake of lifting the excommunication of several priests, chief amongst them a Holocaust denier, which may provide some clue as to the effect that membership in the Hitler Youth had on Ratzinger. Finally, he was also foolish enough to make an incredibly asinine remark, admitting that the problem of AIDS in Africa was bad, but not as bad as the use of condoms. Not only that, he stated that condoms helped INCREASE the spread of AIDS. Take a second to imagine the detrimental impact this had on destitute families within Africa, already struggling in poverty to feed the children they already have. This disgraceful comment would have brought even more starvation and destruction to Africa.
All things considered, it is a good thing that Ratzinger has decided to retire from the papacy. And his decision comes not a moment too soon. It is said that he will move into a renovated monastery used by cloistered nuns inside the Vatican for a “period of prayer and reflection”. Let us hope he will reflect on the insidious harm he has caused to those who have suffered as a result of protection of child rapists, and the damage he has wreaked on poor families in Africa as a result of his cretinous remarks concerning condoms. The Catholic Church ought to be ashamed of many of the positions it has taken. (I cannot recommend highly enough the debate advanced by Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens that the Catholic church is Not a Force for Good in the World.) Whilst penning this article, I realised that I had subconsciously assumed that I was writing the obituary of Joseph Ratzinger. And so it may be. Until then, I’ll be quietly humming the lyrics to Tim Minchin’s Pope Song. On Twitter, Richard Dawkins expressed his sympathy, saying he felt sorry for the pope “and all Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex.” Not only has the pope wasted his own life, but he has also brought harm and ruin to the lives of many others, maintaining the reactionary image of the Catholic church and espousing obstructions to the course of justice. The world will be better off without him at the helm of the Catholic church.