The Catholic formerly known as the Pope

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 11, 2013
pope, Benedict XVI, Leon Panetta, TIME

Pope Benedict XVI – demitting the bishopric of Rome

This has to one of the most divinely inspired imagined accounts of what Pope Benedict XVI said to Leon Panetta. In tribute to the unexpected news that he was demitting the bishopric of Rome and that of shepherd of his worldwide flock, TIME magazine offers an outline of the “real” conversation between the Pope and outgoing US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta who recently visited the Holy Father at the Vatican.

“Leon, my son…” it begins, “I hear you’ll be looking for work soon. As a good Catholic, you should consider taking over for me. You’ve got Congress, I’ve got the Congress of cardinals. I’ve got Swiss Guards; you’ve got the 82nd Airborne. I deal with the daily miracle of transubstantiation, you’ve got the nightmare of sequestration. Think about it, grandson of Italy. If you give me a sign, I’ll step down by the end of February.”

So, the Catholic formerly known as the Pope sets a new course for the papacy by doing something last done 598 years ago. If only he had been so bold about some of the other issues – notably the abuse of children – that continue to bedevil the Catholic church.

Perhaps this Pope should be hailed for recognizing that he was emphatically not a good news story for the church?

A member of the UK thinktank, the Ramadhan Foundation, says Benedict’s papacy will be “sadly remembered” by the Muslim world for “his distortion and attack on Islam”. It is a reference to the Pope’s use of a quotation, back in 2006, which appeared to suggest that the contributions made by Prophet Muhammad were “only evil and inhuman”.

Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic Church

Christ handing the keys to St Peter: 15th century painting by Pietro Perugino. Pope Benedict XVI didn’t seem to have the key to some of the biggest problems faced by the Catholic church in the 21st century

In a sign of so much that is wrong with the church today, the news has drawn an extraordinary reaction from the Philippines, Asia’s largest Catholic country. Many Roman Catholic Filipinos are reportedly joking about it. They’re saying that members of the Philippine church would do well to follow suit. It’s black humour to be sure but it says much about their increasingly poor view of the church. It has become a divisive force in the Philippines, where it is associated with corruption, questionable leadership and a fierce opposition to the reproductive health bill (that allows the state the right to fund contraception and sex-education classes.)

All of this while Benedict XVI was Vicar of Christ.

Though few would be so politically incorrect as to say it, the truth is this Pope has handled his ministry in such a way as to leave his successor an array of problems under the umbraculum, or the striped canopy  ceremoniously held aloft over the pontiff.