Incoming Pope should add transparency to role
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 22:02
As a nerd, Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation made my history feelers perk up. Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, has had a short (eight years) reign in the Vatican. And will be the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 (598 years!). What happened with Pope Gregory XII, and does it bear any similarities to our problems today? I mean, what can we possibly learn 600 years later?
Well in 1415, the world was a very different place. The Columbian Exchange hadn’t quite happened yet, so there was no United States. There was no Internet, and most languages were still in the “Middle” phase (Chaucerian English is spoken entirely differently than Late Modern English, which we speak, or Early Modern, which Shakespeare’s plays are read in). The Catholic Church’s biggest problem in 1415 was the fact that it was politically divided. When Pope Clement V was elected, he refused to move to Rome and demanded that the epicenter of the Catholic Church move to Avignon, France. He was the Pope, thus they did. The Avignon Church soon developed a reputation for corruption and there were efforts to move the focus of the Church back to Rome. When Pope Gregory XI (11, not 12) died in 1378, there was a riot in Rome to make sure a Roman was elected Pope to return Catholicism to Rome. After the election of Urban VI, Clement VII was elected Pope as well and took seat in Avignon. This event is known as the “Western Schism.” Countries took sides. Since England and France were at war, England paid homage to the Roman Church, while France paid homage to Avignon. Between 1408 and 1415, there were three Popes (the third one popped up in Pisa briefly). Pope Gregory XII (sitting in Rome) resigned to heal the Church’s wounds now that the “Antipopes” in Avignon and Pisa were being dealt with. Gregory’s successor Martin V was elected in 1417 to lead a united Church.
Fast forward 600 years. Popes are no longer warring Kings, they’re spiritual leaders to the world’s 1 billion Catholics across over 200 countries. But just because the Bishop of Rome isn’t crowning Kings anymore or behaving like one himself doesn’t mean his decisions don’t affect daily life. Surely everyone remembers last year’s “Obamacare” debacle that gathered controversy when it required Catholic funded hospitals to provide contraceptives? Or the ongoing AIDS pandemic and condom use in Africa? Or any of the women’s reproductive rights seminars last Autumn?
Alistair Sear, a Church historian in Rome, describes Benedict’s resignation as a turning point in church history, “There was a time when the Pope was a kind of king, and then, more recently, a spiritual leader. Perhaps now we will see an age of the Pope first and foremost as an administrator.”
This brings a whole new level of reality to the Church with the new “VatiLeaks” scandal going around.
In case you’re as unfamiliar with “VatiLeaks” as you are with the 14th Century Western Schism, here’s the basics: the existence of a file that contains vital details of the recent Priest molestation scandals among other Vatican secrets that could prove to be a public nightmare has been revealed. And it’s harbored in the Pope’s own safe.
The reality of the situation is that the “VatiLeaks” folder was kept secret precisely because it could be a political (and spiritual) nightmare for the Church if it was revealed. Ironically, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy as most secret files seem to become.
Again, I’m not a Catholic. But many of my family members are, and my best friends are Catholic. Association doesn’t equal approval, but Catholicism is a rapidly declining religion primarily because those raised in the faith see their Priests and leaders act in particularly un-Christian and without compassion. Who wants to call themselves a Catholic when their son, an altar boy, was subjected to sexual abuse in a House of God? So when it comes to picking a new Pope, they need to pick an Italian who’s been there who can administrate well. The Catholic Church has weathered tougher storms than this one. But if they want to maintain any spiritual credibility, or their followers, that file is going to have to come out.