News reports about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation said he was the first pope in 600 years to quit. Usually, a pontiff stays on the job until he — or she, in Pope Joan’s case in the 9th century — dies.
No news report mentioned that sometimes popes have had “help” with the dying part, i.e., having been murdered by ambitious, ruthless schemers.
The vast majority of these instances — as well as additional alleged or suspected cases — happened centuries ago, but some modern Catholics likely recall the rumours and theories that swirled after the untimely death of Pope John Paul I, who died a mere 33 days after being elected Pope in 1978. God works in mysterious ways, indeed.
The standard story line is that his successor, Pope John Paul II, chose his papal name as a tribute to his predecessor. On the flip side, it’s also reasonable to suspect the Vatican’s back-room boys saw it as a way to obliterate the memory of John Paul I.
But back to Benedict XVI.
He and John Paul II have a special bond, a relationship unique among the hundreds of men — and, supposedly, one woman — who have held the office established by St. Peter.
Their bond is this: they are the only two popes in history to have presided over the Catholic Church when hundreds of cases arose of priests and clergy sexually abusing children.
Rather than cast the transgressors out of the proverbial temple — as Jesus would have done, if precedent is anything to go by — the sex-abuse-era popes each opted to defend the guilty and ignore the victims.
Convicted men of the cloth, rather than getting what they deserve — being cast out — have generally been gently eased into church-supported retirement. There’s something to think about when you drop some silver into the collection plate.
Sorry is easy
Being pope doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI both did.
Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades and the Inquisition; he apologized to Galileo, to Jews, to aboriginals and to women, among others. He apologized to nuns who were raped by priests or missionaries.
But he didn’t apologize to people who, as children, had been sexually abused by priests or clergy.
At the time of John Paul II’s death in 2005, such crimes had been public knowledge in Newfoundland for more than 15 years; in Boston, such cases became public in 2002; worldwide, cases arose in numerous countries.
In 2008, Benedict XVI made a verbal apology for the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy.
In 2010, he wrote a letter of apology to Irish Catholics, amid revelations of broad abuse in Ireland.
Apologies are fine, as far as they go. But the papal apologies did not extend to saying sorry for the many proven instances of coverups by various Church authorities — the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who knew about the sexual abuse of children, but chose to protect priests rather than inform the police and see justice served.
Nor did the apologies extend to telling Church lawyers to cease and desist, and stop battling sexual abuse victims in court. If “sorry” is not accompanied by an admission of guilt and a willingness to take responsibility for that guilt, it is meaningless and, worse, conniving.
How long have some former residents of the Mount Cashel orphanage been fighting for justice? Their court case against the church has been ongoing for more than a decade. It’s as if the church is saying, “We’re sorry — now see if your lawyers can prove our lawyers wrong.”
Brian Jones was an altar boy at Christ the King Chapel and is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.