On Mon­day, Pope Bene­dict XVI announced that he will be resign­ing at the end of Feb­ru­ary. The 84 year old pon­tiff, born Joseph Aloi­sius Ratzinger, will be the first to resign since Pope Gre­gory XII resigned in 1415 and the first to do so vol­un­tar­ily since Pope Celes­tine V in 1294. He has served as Pope since 2005.

Although Bene­dict XVI has cited health con­cerns, there is some spec­u­la­tion that the res­ig­na­tion may be related to the ongo­ing sex­ual abuse scan­dals that have rocked the church in the past decade. Before becom­ing Pope, Car­di­nal Ratzinger was respon­si­ble for order­ing that all reports of sex abuse be chan­neled through his office at the Con­gre­ga­tion of the Doc­trine of Faith which he oper­ated from 2001 to 2005.

The Hol­ly­wood Reporter cites Oscar-winning direc­tor Alex Gib­ney, whose doc­u­men­tary Mea Max­ima Culpa: Silence in the House of God sought to expose the sex abuse cri­sis as say­ing, “I think his papacy will always be sad­dled with the stain of the sex abuse cri­sis. While he did some things to try to mit­i­gate it, he never took respon­si­bil­ity in any kind of sub­stan­tial ways, and this is the man who knows more about cler­i­cal sex abuse than any per­son on the planet because of what he did between 2001 and 2005 as head of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith. He was always try­ing to make it go away, and it wouldn’t go away, because he never fun­da­men­tally under­stood how deep was the pain and the crime and never was will­ing to hold him­self and the church to account for hav­ing done what it did.”

Gibney’s film describes the lives of five deaf men who were abused as boys by a priest in the 1960s at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin. They had appealed their case to local author­i­ties and ulti­mately to the Vat­i­can where they were ignored.

Givney tells the Hol­ly­wood Reporter that there were times when Ratzinger tried to move for­ward and then would revert to pro­tect the institution.

Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a 12,000 mem­ber orga­ni­za­tion, has claimed Bene­dict is per­son­ally respon­si­ble for wide­spread abuse within the church because he chose to pro­tect its rep­u­ta­tion over the safety of chil­dren. The Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights (CCR) filed a case against the pope last year on behalf of SNAP.

In a state­ment released this week, the CCR said: “This pope is respon­si­ble for rape and other sex­ual vio­lence around the world, both through his exer­cise of supe­rior respon­si­bil­ity and through his direct involve­ment in the cover up of spe­cific crimes. Tens of thou­sands of vic­tims, most of them chil­dren, con­tinue to suf­fer because he has placed the rep­u­ta­tion of the church above the safety of its mem­bers. His res­ig­na­tion will make inter­na­tional pros­e­cu­tion eas­ier for national sys­tems of jus­tice that still grant immu­nity to cur­rent heads of state.”

Addi­tion­ally, sev­eral Amer­i­can law­suits have been filed against the pope and other high-ranking Holy See offi­cials for sys­tem­at­i­cally con­ceal­ing sex­ual crimes. These sex abuse cases have taken a large finan­cial toll on the Catholic Church. The Arch­dio­cese of Los Ange­les alone had to pay a $660 mil­lion set­tle­ment stem­ming from clergy abuse law­suits. Last week the Los Ange­les Times  reported that Car­di­nal Roger Mahony “qui­etly appro­pri­ated $115 mil­lion from a ceme­tery main­te­nance fund and used to to help pay a land­mark set­tle­ment with molesta­tion vic­tims. The church did not inform rel­a­tives of the deceased that it had taken the money, which amounted to 88% of the fund.”

Mahoney had agreed to the set­tle­ment six years ago know­ing that if the case, brought by more than 500 plain­tiffs, may have resulted in a trial ver­dict exceed­ing $1 bil­lion. The Los Ange­les set­tle­ment paid out an aver­age of $1.3 per victim.

In the U.S.,

Pope Benedict XVI - Photo courtesy Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Pope Bene­dict XVI — Photo cour­tesy Catholic Church (Eng­land and Wales)

the Catholic sex abuse scan­dal has taken a tremen­dous toll on the church with over $2 bil­lion spent so far on legal set­tle­ments and attor­ney fees, 16,000 vic­tims, mostly teenage boys since 1950, 6,100 accused priests since 1950, and 4,000 cases hav­ing been inves­ti­gated in the past decade.

In addi­tion, there were a num­ber of other issues that Bene­dict had to deal with, includ­ing rumors of prob­lem­atic deal­ings of the IOR bank, polit­i­cal rival­ries between car­di­nals, and a doc­u­ment leak scandal.

Although Bene­dict might bear some respon­si­bil­ity for the way that the sex abuse scan­dal has been han­dled, it is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend how one indi­vid­ual could han­dle the sheer mag­ni­tude of the alle­ga­tions and finances involved. In fact, it was dur­ing his reign as pope that many of the cases were set­tled and one can only assume that new poli­cies and pro­ce­dures were imple­mented that will pre­vent future abuse cases.

Benedict’s res­ig­na­tion may pro­vide the Vat­i­can with an oppor­tu­nity to move past the scan­dals and toward a more hope­ful future.

The day before announc­ing his res­ig­na­tion, Bene­dict tweeted: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sin­ners, but his grace trans­forms us and makes us new.”

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