There's no question that Pope Benedict XVI"s resignation is a reflection of a crisis occurring in the Catholic Church. In the same week that Benedict resigned, the General Assembly in Francepassed a marriage equality bill that will make that country the largest and most influential predominantly Catholic country to allow gays and lesbians to marry. The Vatican is losing its ugly crusade against homosexuality and other self-described secular "ills," and part of the problem (at least helping to accelerate its losses) appears to be Benedict himself.
But to those Catholics, gay and non-gay alike, who have hopes that the change will be positive, I'd offer up the old expression, "Better the devil you know." As details emerge, it's becoming clear that Benedict realized that he's viewed by many in the world as a hatemonger who insulted not only gays but Muslims, Jews, Anglicans, women and many others and is seen as having covered up a horrendous child sex abuse scandal. Benedict saw that he is tarnished goods:
But after a seemingly endless series of scandals, the 85-year-old who so ably enforced doctrine for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, seemingly came to understand that only a new pope, one with far greater energies than he, could lead a global church and clean house inside the hierarchy at its helm. In the end, Vatican experts said, he decided he could best serve the church by resigning, a momentous decision with far-reaching implications that are still not fully understood.
In many ways Benedict was a victim of his own success. It was he who came up with the brutally hateful term "intrinsically disordered" to describe homosexuality, back when he was head of the Vatican's Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II. When used by Pope John Paul, standing on his balcony overlooking Saint Peter's Square in 2000 as he condemned homosexuality as "evil," that term had the same hateful meaning but was excused by many simply because they loved and respected John Paul. Their adoration of the man had them rationalizing his homophobic outbursts as "misguided" rather than hateful. And they could always tell themselves, "Well, he didn't come up with the words."
But Benedict is in fact the architect of the church's anti-gay policies and positions, mostly hammered out in the 1980s in response to AIDS, and he is the creator of those hateful words. He created and enforced church doctrine on a number of other issues during that era, as well. As pope he was rarely excused for ugly rhetoric against particular groups -- or even for slips of the tongue -- because he lacked charm and charisma, often seen as cold even by the most devoted:
On global tours he drew crowds but not the adoring masses that turned out for John Paul II. His photo hung in churches and religious classrooms worldwide, but, seen as shy and intellectual, he seemed distant to at least some of his faithful.
Stepping down is a radical move by Benedict -- something not done by any pope in 600 years -- a last-ditch effort to shore up the church's power and influence and cast its hateful positions back in benevolent terms. A pope who is loved and adored, and free of the taint of scandal, could, in Benedict's mind, perhaps bring the faithful back into the fold.
The names of African and Latin American cardinals are on the lists of those in line to be the next pope, who will be chosen by the very doctrinaire cardinals that Benedict put in place. One of the Africans, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, actually defended Uganda's "kill the gays" bill and has said we need "to recognize there's a subtle distinction between morality and human rights." If the Vatican chose Turkson or one of the other African or Latin American cardinals, the world would praise the cardinals for promoting diversity even as they install someone with the same or worse positions on a vital human rights issue of our time. Whomever is chosen, however, you better believe that the cardinals will make sure that it's someone who is likable and doesn't carry Benedict's baggage while still enforcing Benedict's doctrine. In that way, the new pope will be more insidiously homophobic, and that is always more dangerous and anti-gay.