Pope Benedict not worth a prayer

Few popes in recent decades have excited as much comment as the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI. His novel departure from office – the first pope to voluntarily stand down in more than half a millennium – will see him styled as pope emeritus until his death though he will play no further part, officially, in leading the Catholic church.

I have been stunned by the outpourings of affection for Benedict in the past few weeks. Many Catholics appear to see his standing-down as the loss of an old friend.

I was prepared to accept that initially but now feel I should not let his departure be gilded quite so richly.

I am these days a very lapsed catholic but was educated by nuns and brothers for a decade and a half in my youth. My quarrels with the church are deep and meaningful, based on several emotion-charged experiences. They do not need to be recounted here but go to the heart of the abuse scandals that have rocked Catholicism in recent decades.

Benedict, to me, seemed a divisive character from the beginning. He was a hard-liner and seemed to relish mandating very conservative and orthodox beliefs and practices. Surprising since he was said to have been quite liberal in his youth though that is a common enough trait.

My opinion matters not a jot in the scheme of things but I feel Benedict betrayed the very values that are supposed to be at the heart of catholic theology. He protected abusers and not the victims. In failing to ensure justice for those guilty of very serious sin, he placed temporal matters above spiritual.

This is a fundamental faultline and the catholic church has, in my lifetime, always seemed far too focused on wealth, power and ego to the detriment too often of humility, honesty and service. Fame and adulation mess with people’s minds. We see it all the time with celebrities in whatever their field of endeavour: once the ‘masses’ start to fawn over them, their ego inflates and values are suborned.

The princes of the church are just as human as the rest of us and just as susceptible to the temptations of the good life.

The church appears unable to overcome the harsh reality that it can no longer attract sufficient numbers of clergy. It speaks volumes that fewer and fewer believers are willing to adopt a vocation. This is the church’s own flock voting with their feet.

When the College of Cardinals meets to choose a new leader, they must surely seek to appoint a healer who can reach out to the masses and rekindle the faith, hope and belief that have been eroded in recent years.

As for Benedict, he should search his soul for redemption while there is still time.