I didn't even know popes quit. Kind of assumed they were just pope until they keeled over like the last dude.
It's pretty rare. Folks are wondering if it's tied the HBO documentary on child abuse.
When I learned of the news that Pope Benedict XVI was going to become the first pope in six centuries to resign from office, I immediately thought, I wonder what Alex Gibney makes of this? His documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God details the integral role that Benedict, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, played in investigating the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, and, given the ample space that the New York Times devoted to that subject in its report on the resignation, I was left with impression that, behind the scenes, the continuing controversy may have played a part in the Pope's decision to step down.
"I can't help but think that the sex abuse crisis must have been on his mind," Gibney emailed back when I asked for his take on the news. "There was no going forward on that issue while he was in office." The filmmaker added: "I give him credit for resigning. That brought a bit of modernity to the Papacy."
Here's how the Times carefully put it:
In 2010, as outrage built over clerical abuses, some secular and liberal Catholic voices called for his resignation, their demands fueled by reports that laid part of the blame at his doorstep, citing his response both as a bishop long ago in Germany and as a cardinal heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles such cases.
In one disclosure, news emerged that in 1985, when Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger, he signed a letter putting off efforts to defrock a convicted child-molesting priest. He cited the priest’s relative youth but also the good of the church.
Vatican officials and experts who follow the papacy dismissed the idea of his stepping down at the time. “There is no objective motive to think in terms of resignation, absolutely no motive,” said Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. “It’s a completely unfounded idea.”
For his supporters, it was a painful paradox that the long-gathering abuse scandal finally hit the Vatican with a vengeance under Benedict. As the leader of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had been ahead of many of his peers in recognizing how deeply the church had been damaged by revelations that priests around the world had sexually abused youths for decades. As early as 2005, he obliquely referred to priestly abuse as a “filth in the church.”
He went on to apologize for the abuse and met with victims, a first for the papacy. But he could not escape the reality that the church had shielded priests accused of molesting, minimized behavior it would have otherwise deemed immoral and hid the misdeeds from the civil authorities, forestalling criminal prosecution