And then, in one bound, he was gone. Yes, Pope Benedict may have achieved in retirement what no other pope has managed in 600 years but in all other areas? He's achieved very little. Certainly, in terms of reversing the Catholic church's plummeting reputation, or helping it become more relevant in a changing world, his past eight years have been an abject failure. Under Benedict's watch, any integrity remaining in the Vatican has vanished.
People can talk all they want about the lack of a schism among the papal elite; about the goodwill amongst those hoping to succeed Benedict. They're missing the point, really. The greatest threat to the church these days isn't in-fighting, it's the disconnect between those who think they run the place and everyday parishioners. Never before has the Vatican or a pope seemed quite so at odds with mainstream convention. Irrelevance beckons.
If anyone doubts this, they only need to consider the catholic church's dwindling influence. Hardly any wonder, either, when its chief honcho continues to condemn such basic freedoms as contraception and women's rights, and is on public record describing homosexuality as evil and immoral. Most Catholics I know disagree completely with this nonsense; the ones who concur are in a tiny minority. The Vatican is losing touch.
Benedict hasn't helped. From dragging his feet over the church's child abuse scandal to warnings about same-sex marriage presenting a "threat to humanity itself", he's come across as an apologist for the narrow-minded. He's repatriated a holocaust denier, denigrated the prophet Mohammad and spurned multi-culturalism. He's described rock music as anti-religion; Buddhism as auto-erotic spirituality and Harry Potter as a corrupting influence.
There's an irony in all of this, too. Irony, because the more Benedict has tried to reassert the church's bottom line, the more transparent his institution's impotence has became. When you lack the moral authority to instruct a household cat, guess that can happen. With respect at an all-time low, the Vatican's decrees seem as worthless as they are inconsequential. That will be Benedict's legacy: a time even Catholics stopped caring about what a pope said.
Wasn't so long ago, remember, when the Catholic church carried plenty of political clout. Countries would go to great lengths to avoid a run-in with the Vatican. No-one wanted to upset the pope. Now? Well, contraception is Government funded, abortion is widely available and politicians are considering same-sex marriage and voluntary euthanisa. No head of state gives a tinker's cuss what the Vatican thinks. They're more concerned with what's right.
Call me a Catholic basher if you want. Would just like to point out, however, that I was baptised and raised as a Catholic, was sent to Catholic schools, was taught by nuns and attended church about three times a week. Now? Well, Catholicism represents the biggest fraud of my life: a misogyny-ridden old boys club, committed to using women as baby farms, children as target practice and gays as a living proof of Satan's little helpers.
Don't know about others but for this oh-so-lapsed Catholic, Benedict has only reinforced everything bad about the faith. Far from being a leader, he's stubbornly clung on to past wrongs, refused utterly to embrace evolving rights and has been incapable of providing a modern narrative in an increasingly-secular world. That's not so much leading as shutting yourself in the office and drawing the curtains. Beacon of morality, my arse.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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