In his book ‘Light in the Darkness’ Pope Benedict spoke with a journalist he trusted on a range of topics. It is there we read what he said in 2005 at Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!” Benedict spoke the words but they were written by Pope John Paul II who died a few weeks later.
Those are the most devastating words of judgment we have heard in our lifetimes about the corrupt lives of thousands of priests, including bishops and cardinals, who have been dismissed from the priesthood, and Benedict is open about the terrible failure to properly address that abuse and the crucifying suffering endured by the victims throughout their lives.
Church authority, including the two popes, had been intent on hiding the scandal rather than listening to the victims. Benedict was demoralised and resigned. It is his own admission. Other popes have resigned – you’ll be surprised how many – but Benedict’s resignation is unprecedented because he chose freely, whereas the others were advised or forced to resign for the good of the Church or at the demand of powerful factions and families.
The papacy has a depressing history going back to the year 366. Pope Liberius died in the September. Two of his deacons were thugs, Damasus and Ursinus, each determined to become pope. They hired gangs of assassins. Murderous battles were fought in the streets of Rome and hundreds died. Damasus won, became pope in the October and the Church celebrates him as St Damasus on 11th December. He was our first murderous pope.
Pope Benedict knew his failure, the sufferings of millions of children (now in their 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, 40’s – lifetimes of suffering). He resigned. He did not consult the cardinals but told them. They listened in bewilderment. We have film of the occasion. Someone would now have to resolve those issues of (a) justice for the abused children and women and (b) the failure of bishops “loyal” to Rome but not to the truth nor to the abused victims.
The Synod is Pope Francis’ way of guiding us to the truth of what has happened and remind us that the simple gospel of Jesus “love one another” is our mission. No one will listen to that message unless the Church is radically reformed.
As we pray for Pope Benedict we can be glad he wanted to become pope. He knew the cardinals wanted him because he was chosen quickly. He gave continuity to the papacy of Pope John Paul II and must have hoped he would be able to resolve the abuse issues. He knew more than anyone the problems and would ask God to guide him. What suffering he must have known as he failed. We pray for the millions who have suffered and still suffer. We pray for the Church and its authorities which have failed.
God bless us.
(8th January 2023)