When Pope Benedict XVI announced this week he was resigning from the Chair of Peter, it was, said UCSB scholar Stefania Tutino, “a very rare occurrence,” but not completely out of the blue. The first pope in 600 years not to leave office feetfirst, Benedict clearly did not enjoy the public demands of his position, Tutino said, was in failing health, and found himself embroiled in internal Vatican scandal and conflict. And that’s on top of the child-abuse scandal that’s consumed the church worldwide and has “characterized” his papacy in “a remarkably negative manner,” she said.
Tutino — a historian of the Vatican and Catholic Church — cautioned that the pope does not operate like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and cannot be expected to single-handedly overcome the “doctrinal rigidity” of the church. Even so, she said, he didn’t do enough to address the issue of child abuse, either as pope or as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his post under John Paul II. Tutino described Benedict as a scholar and doctrinal radical at odds with “secular modernity.” His strict adherence to a rigid orthodoxy cost Benedict followers in the United States and Europe, she said, citing his opposition to condoms even in the face of Africa’s AIDS epidemic.
Tutino broke ranks with many of the Vatican prognosticators who predict the College of Cardinals will elect a new pope just as conservative as Benedict. She acknowledged he appointed roughly half the Cardinals but noted his successor needs a two-thirds majority to win. The fate of that election will matter to more than the one billion people who call themselves Catholics because the Roman Catholic Church remains very much a global power in an increasingly globalized world. The challenge posed by leaders like Benedict is whether the “institutional rigidity of the Church” can be sustained in the future. “I, for one, am incredibly anxious and excited to see how things pan out,” Tutino said.