Bye bye, Ratzi

Like most people, I was surprised by the pope’s decision to leave his post to spend more time with his family. It was so unexpected that one immediately suspected that there was more to the story and the rumor mills have kicked into high gear.

Looked at one way, that is an unreasonable suspicion. After all, the Roman Catholic church can be considered a massive transnational business that is partly legitimate and partly an organized crime syndicate. Running such an enterprise requires energy and drive and it is not unreasonable for an 85-year old man who has had health issues (he reportedly has had a pacemaker for years and had hinted that he was not in the best of health) to feel that he is not up to the task and may step down

But on the other hand, the fact that previous popes have continued to the end, even when they were very frail (like the current pope’s predecessor) and the church did not collapse suggests that the church is a well-oiled system that pretty much runs itself and requires the pope mainly as a figurehead who provides doctrinal guidance and boosts the morale of the followers. As long as he can wave to them and give the occasional homily, the flock seems satisfied.

Another reason for suspicion is that this pope is one who believes strongly in tradition, resisting change on all fronts and even going so far as to return to old forms of the mass. So why would he break one of its longest traditions? After all, no pope has resigned in 600 years, the last one to do so was in 1415 for political reasons in an attempt to heal a schism in the church with more than one pope claiming legitimacy. We have to go back even further to pope Celestine V’s abdication in 1294 to find an example of a pope who stepped down from the post without that kind of institutional crisis. But in Celestine’s case, having an ex-pope around resulted n all manner of intrigues which may be why such resignations were discouraged in the future

Another factor to consider is that Ratzi is an extremely ambitious man who campaigned to get the job when his predecessor died. Such people love to wield power, enjoy the perks of office, and do not want to give those up. They tend to die with their boots on.

So why would such a person quit? One reason may be that he simply got tired of dealing with one horrific scandal after another of abuse by priests and cover-ups by the church and there are rumors that more may be revealed soon, perhaps with more direct links to his involvement. It may also be that he saw that on all the major battles he was waging (contraception, abortion, homosexuality, nuns, male priesthood, priestly celibacy) he was losing ground and could see the writing on the wall. After all, countries like France and the UK are on the path to legalizing same-sex marriage this year.

I do not expect much of the new pope. After all, the college of cardinals who will elect him consists of 55% who were appointed by the current pope and 45% appointed by his predecessor and were among those who elected Ratzi. So ideologically the people who will vote will be very close in outlook to him. On the other hand, many of the cardinals must know that the church is hurting from all the scandals and is losing the war on many social issues and losing the public relations battle as well, so may well decide to overlook their desire for doctrinaire orthodoxy and take this opportunity to choose someone who can more gracefully ease the church into greater conformity with modern times.

So who might the new pope be? I have no idea but the church must find someone who has no skeletons in his closet on any of the issues that have rocked the church. I have no idea how good the vetting process is to check the backgrounds of candidates to the post but I suspect that it is not that great. If they want my advice, the Vatican will hire the people that US political parties use to dig deep into the backgrounds of presidential candidates, cabinet officers, and Supreme Court justices, people who look unsparingly into every corner to see what is hidden there, and require candidates to be brutally honest about their lives. Of course, cardinals are used to being treated like gods and will not be pleased to have their entire lives put under the microscope by grubby political operatives and thus the Vatican may resist taking my advice. If so, they shouldn’t come crying to me if because of their lack of proper vetting, their choice blows up in their faces later, like Sarah Palin.

I think that because the US has been particularly hard hit by the scandals, the next pope is unlikely to be one of the American cardinals because of the fear that he will be found to be tainted in some way. But it could still be an American. Apparently any Catholic male can be eligible to be pope and there is one person who is even more Catholic than the pope and has already received a lot of scrutiny. I refer of course to Rick Santorum. He hasn’t a hope in hell of getting elected president of the US but his chances are slightly better at becoming pope. So throw your hat in the ring, little Ricky!

Meanwhile, on The Today Show, Samantha Bee reports on why the pope resigned

(This clip was aired on February 11, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. unbound says

    Mano – you might want to take the time to watch the recent Mea Maxima Culpa (playing on HBO this month). It is a good documentary on the recent history of the rape issues covered up by the Church (and does show the links all the way up to the top and associated directly with the current pope).

  2. slc1 says

    Of course, it may be that Joe the rat remembers that his predecessor was a basket case for several years prior to his death and he doesn’t want to end up like that.

  3. sunny says

    I am just really upset with Jesus for not blessing his best buddy on earth with good health. If he is unwilling to answer Mr. Pope’s prayers, then the rest of us have no chance of being heard. Does this mean that prayer does not work?

  4. garnetstar says

    At first I thought it might be because Ratzi has been sued for his involvement in the cover-up (he is a named defendant in one of the suits), and the church doesn’t want the spectacle of the pope in court, or, if they think the judgement is likely to go against him, they don’t want their Holy Infallible Leader to be found liable. Too damaging for the church.

    But, it would be more difficult to find him liable and extract a settlement while he’s still Pope than if he’s just a private citizen, wouldn’t it?

  5. Mano Singham says

    I agree that he is more vulnerable legally as an ex-pope than a pope. That is why I think he may be just fed up rather than fearing being hauled off to court.

  6. lanir says

    I’m going with he’s giving up being pope for lent; he just started early.

    As for the likelihood of a more progressive pope… I’m not really seeing it. If anything I think they’ll do what the “conservatives” in the US have been doing as they realized things weren’t going their way because they ran too far out on a limb to secure the batshit crazy voting bloc: drink more of the kool-aid and swear all problems are the result of not being extreme enough. I suspect the chances of getting someone even moderately progressive in that office are about as likely as seeing a real life pope Joan.

  7. Paul W. says


    So who might the new pope be? I have no idea but the church must find someone who has no skeletons in his closet on any of the issues that have rocked the church.

    I’m skeptical that they can do that, and suspect they’ll do almost the opposite.

    Criminal organizations generally require serious guilt on the part of anybody elevated to high power, because you can’t trust anybody you don’t have major leverage over—especially not to give them literal sovereignty over you for life.

    You can only trust people whose hands are also very dirty, so nobody in power can afford to have anybody clean at their level, much less above them. Mutual Assured Destruction is necessary to keep anybody from wrecking the (corrupt) system.

    (That is why very ruthless gangs often require prospective members to murder someone, and be witnessed by other gang members to have done so, as part of their initiation.)

    And given that, the people elevated to power are generally people who already have enough power to play the internal politics—they know where lots of bodies are buried, and the people whose victims they know about also know where enough of theirvictim’s bodies are buried that there is enough mutual trust to elect them.

    I suspect that a practical prerequisite for being a Cardinal is that you be a sociopath or a True Believer who’s a functional sociopath in most practical respects—one who really believes that the Church’s ends justify just about any means, as canon law requires. (Whether you’re a true believer about things like Original Sin or the Resurrection or not.)

    As I understand it, canon law still says pretty explicitly (in Latin) that you must cover up crimes that would cause “grave damage” to the reputation of the Church, if you can get away with it. Until that changes, I will not believe, that the Church can ever seriously reform itself—canon law says it can’t, and until the pope and the College of Cardinals repudiates that “legal” principle and the underlying theological dogma. (AIUI, That is the real meaning of damning memos from the Vatican that insist any reforms must be “consistent with canon law”—it’s a coded way of saying that the status quo has not changed, and coverups are the rule, not the exception. Few people understand that those memos’ bottom-line meaning is that reforms must be mainly cosmetic, or justified by the Church’s ends, not the means. They’re not about justice for victims, but about controlling the Church’s image above all.)

    I would guess that all of the Cardinals are committed criminals, and that the next Pope will be above average for a Cardinal in criminality and functional sociopathy.

    I think that’s what we saw last time—I’d guess Ratzinger was elected largely because he, as as the head of the Office of the Inquisition (oops… they changed the name) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, knew where more bodies were buried than anyone else, and had been complicit in burying them and keeping them buried. With major scandals breaking out all over, that made him the most trustworthy criminal among criminals.

    And I think we’ll see that again. The pressures just keep getting higher to elect somebody who will keep as many skeletons buried as is feasible, only cleaning house to the extent that is justified by PR concerns.

    The same dynamics apply at all levels of the Church, from the Pope through the Cardinals and Bishops all the way down to the monsignors and local priests. A major reason that the Church systematically fails to punish pedophiles is that they’ve covered up for pedophiles, and doing so gives pedophiles leverage over them. Any pedophile that they turn over to the cops could rat them out for covering up past crimes—and usually not just their own, but a number of other pedophiles whose cases they know about.

    That’s why the Church systematically covers up everything it can—it’s in too deep, and you can’t sacrifice anybody because everybody’s complicit and you can’t trust anybody you hang out to dry not to rat you out in turn.

    These guys are gangsters pushing an addictive “drug,” even if they sincerely believe that “drug” is good for you, and the dynamics of drug pushing gangs inevitably must apply. For the organization to survive, it must have two overriding goals at all times: 1) keep the addicts addicted, and 2) Cover Each Other’s Asses.

    That may be justified in terms of dogma about forgiveness and redeemability (of priests) and the overwhelming importance of the Church to the Salvation of Mankind, and many of them may really believe it, but in practical terms that’s also a ratification of the way you run any kind of criminal enterprise. There has to be Mutual Assured Destruction by (mutual guilty knowledge) to maintain a strong ethos of Omerta. (“A cultural attitude and code of honour that places heavy importance on a deep-rooted code of silence, non-cooperation with authorities, and non-interference in the illegal (and legal) actions of others. “)

    (I’m tempted to say we shouldn’t be surprised that the Church and the original Mafia were both Italian, but I don’t know if there’s any interesting connection—it’s an inevitable dynamic that arises whenever you have groups of people operating outside the law.)

    What we need is for prosecutors to have the chutzpah to point out the obvious literal truth—that we’re dealing with organized crime here, code of Omerta and all. It’s explictily written into the bylaws of the organization.

    This is exactly the kind of thing that RICO statues were designed to address—how to break through the wall of silence maintained by mutual guilty knowledge, and get enough people to rat on each other that you can make headway against it.

  8. filethirteen says

    What depressed me was all the media coverage of his stepping down. On the radio an archbishop was interviewed about it, to say what a courageous and humble move he thought it was (and how the new pope would need to be a revered charismatic paragon of insight and humility and bravery and blah blah blah but don’t mention the women). Well he was hardly going to say “actually I thought he was a bit of a prat” was he?

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