So, it seems that Ratzinger has decided to resign as Pope. I'm not sure if there is a precedent for this - I'll check later - but it is certainly very unusual.
He is, as many know, widely despised by those, like myself, who consider him to have been the most important and influential figure behind a policy of cover-up, denial, intimidation and just plain lying, that was the Vatican response to the child-rape scandal as it began to break.
I believe that Ratzinger should be on trial for very serious crimes, and it is only his position as a head of state - laughable though that is - that has protected him from such allegations being formalized in court. In short, I think he is a pretty nasty, one might even say 'evil', piece of work.
So, what has the Vatican said about this shock move? The story being circulated is that he can no longer do the job because old-age has enfeebled him to such an extent that it is beyond his capabilities.
Hmm...that is not very convincing. Ovber the last 600 years the Vatican has refined and honed systems designed to ensure that the 'supreme leader' dies in post, and that no matter how feeble, and no matter how long, the basic work goes on pretty much unhindered. I just checked - no Pope has stepped down in 600 years - the Pope is expected to grow old, become infirm, and die in the job - that is what Popes do. The last Pope suffered major ill-health for years and when he died he had been more or less non-functional for many months with Parkinson's disease and senility rendering him a virtual invalid.
Indeed the Church has an interest in keeping the current system - where Popes are normally voted-in when already well into their 60s, or even later, and typically spend less that a decade in post before dying and making way for the next man - since it acts as a counterbalance to the theoretically unlimited power that the office carries.
So I think the health story is a convenient excuse, not the real reason. I think the real reason is that he is going to be more and more implicated and damaged by information slowly leaking out of the Vatican and he has decided, or has been persuaded, that the best move for the church is for him to go now. This will make future revelations less damaging, since they will concern an ex-Pope rather than a current Pope, and at the same time the Vatican can then play the sympathy card and accuse any investigators of hounding an old and sick man over crimes committed long ago.....
It is no coincidence, methinks, that HBO are almost ready to air the documentary first shown las6 year at the Toronto Film festival - 'Mea Maxima Culpa'. This film goes into detail about the history of Catholic child-rape and it makes specific claims directed squarely at Ratzinger that illustrate just what sort of character the man actually is. I think that is much more likely to have been the issue which forced him out.
Damage limitation, Jesuit style.