For only the second time, I get to praise the current pope: I think it’s good he quit. I just wish he’d done it in 2005.
Joseph Ratzinger was a political adversary decades before the Roman church’s hierarchy elected him pope. In 1986, while he was still the head of the church office formerly known as The Inquisition, he issued an edict to bishops called On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. In it, he wrote: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
The reaction of nearly every activist I knew at the time could probably best be summed up in a common two-word epithet, the second word being “you” and the first beginning with “F” and generally meaning sexual intercourse. While catholic apologists at the time tried to claim that Ratzinger also condemned violence against LGBT people, that was mere spin and absolutely not true. What Ratzinger actually said was that LGBT people brought violence upon themselves by being open and accepted and because governments dared to recognise our civil and human rights.
The Roman church’s bishops put the letter into practice by expelling the catholic GLBT group Dignity from holding mass on church property. Prior to that, many major US cities had Dignity masses being held in Catholic churches. After Ratzinger’s letter, they were expelled.
Of course, catholic apologists tried to spin that, too, claiming that Dignity left voluntarily. All they had to do to stay in Catholic churches, apologists said, was accept Ratzinger’s claim—you know, that they all had an “objective disorder” and that their very natures were “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”. Self-loathing is never a healthy thing, so Dignity was forced out of Catholic churches, and claims to the contrary are mere apologist spin.
So, yeah, never a fan of Joseph Ratzinger.
Fast forward two decades and Joseph Ratzinger became pope. I knew we were in for trouble, and I was right.
In 1986, Ratzinger condemned “civil legislation… to protect behaviour (homosexuality) to which no one has any conceivable right”, so it came as no surprise whatsoever that he used his power as pope to try to stop marriage equality. The Roman church was and is the richest and most powerful political opponent of marriage equality in most of the world; in the US, it has several front groups pushing their political message, and, within the church, the US catholic bishops have been especially strident in their opposition and overt political activity.
So, yeah, never became a fan of Joseph Ratzinger, either.
Still there was one time that I actually praised him. Unfortunately, that warm and fuzzy time lasted all of three days. Aside from that one time, he hasn’t done or said anything I thought was praiseworthy; if I’d mentioned him at all, it would far more likely have been to criticise (or even condemn) him. So, I ignored him completely—which was surprisingly easy to do, actually.
Today I saw a lot of people were speculating on the real reason behind his sudden resignation. I think the reason is what he wrote in his resignation letter, that “both strength of mind and body are necessary” to do the job of pope. So, I think it’s age-related physical and mental decline. It’s one thing to have a physically weak and frail doddery old man hanging on as pope, as Ratzinger’s predecessor did, and it’s another thing entirely to have someone who is also declining mentally.
In the end, none of this matters. Whatever the reason, he’s leaving and the Roman church hierarchy will select someone else—almost certainly someone equally as rightwing, or maybe more so. What man that church chooses, what he chooses to preach within their church and even whether non-catholics like or respect him are totally irrelevant.
However, when he crosses into the public sphere, everything changes. When the new pope starts meddling in politics—and he will—and when he tries to tell sovereign nations what laws they may and may not pass—and he will—and when he tries to tell non-catholics how to live their lives—and he will—that new pope, too, will be criticised. That makes him just like all people attempting to influence politics or government, because they, too, are subject to criticism.
Still, I hope the new pope is better and does better. I hope he’s less divisive and less overtly political. While I don’t hold out much hope for that, it’s hard to imagine how the new one could be any worse than Joseph Ratzinger was.
In the end, quitting was the one good thing that Joseph Ratzinger ever did.