Pope Benedict's sudden announcement to step down stirred a whirlwind of commentary and speculation. The publicized reason was that the pope no longer had the stamina to fulfill the duties of his office. This is the first time in more than 600 years that a pope has stepped down. Every pope since then has died while serving as pontiff.
The timing of the announcement coincides with the release of records from Los Angeles where Catholic officials covered up sexual abuse by priests. At the same time, in Germany, where Cardinal Ratzinger once led the church, there is a stalemate in the investigation of abuse by German priests. Cover-ups are not Catholic.
Before Ratzinger was pope, he was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the final arbiter of theology and where the Inquisition was once lodged. From 1977 to 1982, he was an Archbishop in Germany. Allegations of sexual abuse would have come to his desk. In 2001, a letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger was delivered to all priests saying that any complaints of priests sexually abusing minors would be handled internally by Roman Catholic officials. We have learned since then that the practice was to move pedophiles to new locations where their criminal acts were not yet known. Crime is very un-Catholic.
I once met Cardinal Ratzinger during the Papal visit of Pope John Paul II to South Carolina where they held an outdoor service for Protestants and Orthodox Christians. My denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, was included. It may have been an error because many church leaders were irritated by our presence as a denomination founded on the acceptance of lesbian, gay and gender non-conforming people in 1968. MCC women pastors were bold celebrants of communion. So, when my United Methodist lesbian friend introduced me to Cardinal Ratzinger, she made sure the Cardinal understood MCC's inclusiveness and that she expected that I would succeed Troy Perry as the denomination's moderator. He reluctantly and awkwardly shook my hand. I was honored to represent all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people -- and to break into his world of Catholic power brokers.
When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, virtually everyone wanted him to do well and to lead the Catholic Church toward the highest values of love and justice in the global world of faith. Hopes were high that compassion for the poor could inspire a deep revival of human kindness and collaboration for a better world. Kindness is what we expect of Catholics.
There was reason for hope. Ratzinger was once an idealistic priest who supported Vatican II, a conclave that opened the doors of the church so that members would be more engaged in the Eucharist, the Gospel and the whole church. It was very Catholic.
Ratzinger lost his idealism and was instrumental in crushing liberation theology in Latin America and throughout the world. As pope, he vociferously opposed expanding the leadership of women. He silenced Father John McNeill, an openly gay priest. He silenced Father Matthew Fox, renowned Catholic theologian, and when Fox refused silence, he was excommunicated. In Fox's 2011 book, "The Pope's War," more than 100 people are listed as silenced by the pope. His minions recently mounted attacks on nuns in the United States with accusations of "serious theological errors." His anti-gay efforts to block marriage equality were dramatic -- and so un-Catholic.
Pope Benedict has not been a friend to humanity. The pope's chosen name was "Benedict," which means blessing -- a very Catholic value -- but sadly, he mistook doctrinal purity and the institution for love of God and love of neighbor.
Soon, the world will watch as a conclave is convened and decisions will be wrought that result in white smoke and a new pope. We can only pray and hope for a Catholic pope who focuses on protecting children from hunger, poverty and abuse at the hands of those who should be on their side. Millions of Catholics across the world are hoping for a Catholic pope that provides spiritual leadership rather than autocratic rule. We pray for a truly Catholic pope.
As the head of a denomination with members all over the world who escaped from persecution from Christians because of their gender expression and their love, I pray for a new pope who really loves the world. I pray he will love the priests who need to be allowed to marry. I pray he will love all of humanity -- including women whose leadership was blessed by Jesus and should be blessed by the church for ordained leadership. Women leaders are very Catholic.
I pray the world will break into the conclave so that the Cardinals place God's people first rather than the institutional church. The Cardinals will act before Easter, and one of the new pope's first acts will be celebrating mass for Easter, the most holy day in Christendom -- the day of resurrection. This year, we pray that wisdom, compassion, and lucid hope will generate a more inclusive church. We believe God can raise up a truly Catholic pope.