Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden emergence from the cloister may well prove to be the religion story of the year.
The media speculated on how things would work six years ago when Benedict broke precedent to abdicate instead of serving as pope till death, to be succeeded by Pope Francis. Benedict largely maintained silence, lest Catholics think they had two popes. That period ended with a flash last week when conservative Catholic outlets released Benedict’s remarkable 6,000-word analysis of the Catholic Church’s unrelenting scandals over priests’ sexual abuse of underage victims.
Benedict, who said he cleared the publication with Pope Francis, evidently felt he must plunge into the debate because he thinks the reigning pontiff’s February summit meeting on the sexual-abuse crisis was a flop and the church has not solved this severe and enervating crisis (nor did it when Benedict himself was in charge). Media on both the Catholic right and left said Benedict and his allies are setting up a clash with his more liberal successor on the causes and cures of the scandal.
Benedict sees alienation from God as the heart of the matter, with relaxed attitudes toward sin and sex from secular culture that infiltrated the priesthood from secular culture, while “homosexual cliques … significantly changed the climate” in seminaries.
Meanwhile, Francis and his allies stress the need for internal structural reforms in the church. (For what it’s worth, The Guy suspects both pontiffs are correct on the Catholic emergency.)
What should reporters be doing in the wake of Francis’s summit, Benedict’s breakout, and ongoing news?