“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

I only know what about three of those words mean, but the gist of it seems to be that Pope Benedict is giving himself the boot, citing his deteriorated physical condition as his reason for leaving what’s generally considered—for the last 600 years, anyway—a lifetime appointment.

Catholicism is one of those religions that doesn’t let you leave, and so although I’m about as lapsed as a Catholic as you’re like to find in our beloved Garden State, the tradeoff is I’m nonetheless entitled to comment on stuff like this when the occasion strikes. Every 600 years or so. You’ll pardon me if I take advantage.

Here’s what’s going to happen: On Feb. 28, Pope Benedict is going to go back to being Joseph Ratzinger, and basically disappear off the public stage while a new pope is picked using the patented “everybody sit in a room until we pick a new pope” method that the cardinals have been using since they decided to sit down and make all this stuff up in the first place. He leaves the church a more conservative institution than he found it, which is saying something, since late in his life, his predecessor, John Paul II, was essentially a wretched mumbling lump of intolerance, incapable of standing, but still capable of the hate that apparently Jesus just can’t get enough of from the One True Church. Pope Benedict’s legacy will be that of the guy who came in and said, “I think we can take this further.”

Lip service was periodically paid to things like environmental issues and a worldwide shift away from a faith-based life (isn’t it amazing how often moves like that coordinate to rise in education?), but at his core, Ratzinger pushed the church to a stricter reading of the second Vatican council while continuing John Paul II’s lack of substantive action on the real crisis of sexual abuse in the clergy. It’s amazing to think of all the boy-rape that gets brushed under the rug until you actually go to the Vatican and see the size of some of the rugs they have over there. It’s amazing.

But hey, expecting a reasonable approach to modernity from the Catholic Church is like expecting a fart to come out of your ear, so at some point you just have to accept the world you live in. I’m sure 700 years from now they’ll be like, “It’s okay if some dudes and ladies are gay, sorry about that,” and the whole thing will be forgotten—the convenient part of writing your own histories—and priests still won’t be allowed to marry or own property and Catholics can drive their flying cars to slog through the same mass on Sunday. It’s a beautiful world.

I’ll give it to Ratzinger though for retiring when he felt like it. He said back in 2010 that if he ever felt like he “couldn’t kick ass and take names anymore” he’d tell them all to “shove it up their ass” (direct quotes), so good to know that even if he’s a hatemonger proffering a slave doctrine, at least he’s also a man of his word.

The really funny part will be when those cardinals don’t pick either a Latin American or an African to be the next pope. “Yeah, we know you’re like the only places where religion still matters in a major way, but we’ve got all these white Europeans around, so we’re just gonna roll with that.” Way to go guys. Nice to have an institution around that peaked in the Dark Ages.

JJ Koczan


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