Why It’s a Good Thing Pope Benedict Resigned and We Have Pope Francis
Last week the former Vatican ambassador to the United States accused Pope Francis and senior Vatican officials of covering up sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò also alleged that a pro-homosexual cabal had taken control of episcopal appointments. And he called upon Pope Francis to resign.
“If only we had been given a sign,” joked Catholic Vote’s Joshua Mercer. Accompanying his comment was a photo of lightning hitting the dome of St. Peter’s the day Pope Benedict announced he would resign.
He thinks Benedict should not have resigned. That God did not want Francis to be pope the last five years. Viganò’s letter proves it.
My reaction was the exact opposite.
God Did Tell Him
It was the first time in five years that I truly believed that God really did tell Pope Benedict to resign. When Benedict shocked the world in 2013 with the first papal resignation since before Columbus discovered America, he said that God had told him to resign and that he was completely at peace with it.
He has never expressed any doubt about that. But many of us have. The last five years have been a time of great confusion in the life of the Church.
There have been dark moments when we have wondered, to borrow a phrase (and again, a joke from Josh) whether “the Benedict Option” was really “the Quitter Option.” Perhaps God had not wanted the Francis pontificate but (at least) five more years of Benedict’s.
I wondered too, until the Viganò letter. Now, for the first time, I truly believe the last five years have played out according to God’s plan. Here’s why.
I Believe Benedict
Benedict said he was resigning because he was too old. Some claimed he was resigning because he got a report revealing the full extent of the Vatican’s pro-gay cabal.
I believe both those things. I think Benedict read the report and decided he lacked the strength to clean house at the Vatican. So he resigned.
Benedict likely thought that his resignation would lead to the election of a young Pope with the strength to clean house in Rome. He was not entirely wrong. God is using his resignation to clean up his Church. Just not in the way that was expected.
Had Benedict continued to reign as Pope these last five years, the things alleged in Viganò’s letter about corruption at the Vatican might never have come to light. There may have been a sacking of a bishop here, a re-assigning of one there. But we would never have learned the full extent of it.
Instead, because of how Francis has managed the Catholic Church these last five years, we now have the Viganò letter. It is all out in the open.
It Was God’s Will, After All
I now see it as God’s will. Just as Benedict did five years ago. And I am not the only one. Last year Fr. Thomas Weinandy, the former U.S. Bishops’ head of doctrine, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis. He objected to the confusion in the Church that had occurred under Francis and called him to dispel it.
But in the wake of the Viganò testimony, it is the end of his letter that is most striking. He begins by asking why Jesus let this happen. “The only answer that comes to mind is that Jesus wants to manifest just how weak is the faith of many within the Church, even among too many of her bishops,” he writes.
Ironically, your pontificate has given those who hold harmful theological and pastoral views the license and confidence to come into the light and expose their previously hidden darkness. In recognizing this darkness, the Church will humbly need to renew herself, and so continue to grow in holiness.
He concluded: “Holy Father, I pray for you constantly and will continue to do so. May the Holy Spirit lead you to the light of truth and the life of love so that you can dispel the darkness that now hides the beauty of Jesus’ Church.”
As we now know, that darkness is not only doctrinal. But doctrinal, moral and criminal darkness all hang together. And God is exposing it all. “For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17 RSV).
The lightning that hit St. Peter’s dome the night of Benedict’s announcement was not, I believe, a sign of God’s displeasure. It was, rather the lightning of Luke 17:24, as described in the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.” May that lightning now cleanse His Church.
Thank you, Pope Benedict, for bringing the lightning.