People aren’t used to thinking of the Papacy as political but like most things people aren’t used to thinking this is truer than whatever they do think. The Papacy has been political practically since its inception, and this is one of the most political pontiffs we’ve had in recent generations, which is why the total lack of speculation about the real reason for his “retirement” is just one more sign that even our “best” journalists have become incurious and thus singularly inept. Their acceptance of an excuse so weak they’d see through it in a school board election without the consideration of a single subtler possible agenda.
Let’s face it, next to “I want to spend more time with my family” (which they might well have used if he had one), a resignation for “medical reasons” is one of the most popular political dodges of the decade. Could there be something more behind this move than “I’m getting to old to stand on balconies in the cold and wave?”
Yes, indeed there is and it’s not all that hard to figure out you can purge your brain of the automatic acceptance of anything a religious leader says on the supposition that a “holy” man would never, you know, lie.
Benedict is and always has been the kind of hard-core conservative Catholic who thinks Mussolini was misunderstood and anyway those Jews got what they deserved. During WWII he was happy to ignore “rumors” about gas ovens and exterminations and such and preferred to believe that all the Jews were being rounded up so the Germans could give them macrame lessons so they could learn how to support themselves making pot holders and plant hangers. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the ultraconservative Curia’s enforcer. As Pope he has been relentless about punishing liberal clergy and even threatened to excommunicate whole countries. His weak-kneed praying for “the poor” never included any suggested actions that might actually have helped and never came close to so much as embarrassing those responsible for that poverty.
Beginning to see it? Ratzinger wants to make sure of his successor and the best way to do that is to resign and spent the intervening 3 weeks making sure the College of Cardinals know and will vote for his chosen successor. You want to know who the next Pope will be? He will be the most conservative cardinal in the bunch if Ratty has anything to say about it.
Which he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t decided to retire.
Ratty wants to try to control the succession to make sure no Pope is elected who might be considered liberal. Another John XXIII would be considered a disaster by Ratty and the wingnut Curia which might have to off him as they did John Paul I.
And so it goes.