Holy Shit! Benedict the Sixteenth Quit!

The pope is resigning for the first time in 600 years, and that’s a mighty long time. Lots of my friends seem to regard him as a Doctor Evil kind of character, but I find their special dislike of this particular pope bewildering.

The summer I was 16, I worked at a bakery and measured my own moral fiber by my adherence to a plan to stay in shape for cross country season; Benedict was drafted to fight for the Nazis. The summer I was 18, I had fuzzy dice in my Olds Omega, and used to savor the smell of my girlfriend’s Obsession on my collar while driving home from her house; Benedict spent his in a POW camp, then entered the seminary with his brother that fall. His sister ran his household all her life until she died, allowing him to rise through the ranks of  a very troubled church. How troubled? This troubled:

He was Pope John Paul II’s enforcer, so his selection back in ’05 was seen as a safe choice after JPII had stacked the deck by appointing lots of new, conservative cardinals to vote as a block.  I think of him as the George H.W. Bush of the Vatican, the insider chosen to prolong a very conservative period, who can’t possibly keep the song and dance routine going any longer.

Like JPII, Benedict is an Aries. They are very loyal, and great to have on your side. Conversely, you don’t want to piss an Aries off. (I’m married to one, so I’m an authority on this subject.)

Suffice it to say he’s a conservative, 85-year-old man from a time and place that’s very strange to us now. He’s the last pope whose selection was shadowed by World War II, the great European psychodrama of last century. With millions murdered, including Benedict’s cousin with Downes Syndrome, his response was devotion to the church, which he rightly or wrongly regarded as the means to comfort the European soul and to keep it from indulging its sweet tooth for staggering levels of savagery.

This also wedded him to a perversely reactionary code of silence regarding sex, and he was clearly not up to dealing with the  abuse scandals that define the church, and not in a flattering light, to us American liberals. Call him delinquent or irresponsible, but evil?

The church is also a few steps to the left of the Democratic Party on lots of issues such as the rights of the world’s poor, and I loved how JPII would occasionally get to dress down US presidents whenever they wanted to start a war. It’s always better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as Winston Churchill famously said, and JPII and Benedict XVI both got that on a personal level.

I’m supposing that during his years as consigliere to JPII he was the guy who had to clean up all the administrative messes created by having an invalid in charge. His resignation seems courageous, an implicit recognition that the church is a material institution. I won’t exactly miss him, but was oddly moved by today’s news. If you’ve ever watched a grandparent keep driving after they’ve been warned that they should stop, then you know it takes a big person to say, “No  more driving the Omega for me.”