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More On Benedict’s Resignation

The Washington Post reports that a lot of it had to do with ongoing problems with the Vatican Bank. Excerpt:

Evidence suggests the outgoing pope sought to shed light on the dark Vatican books, but that effort yielded even more controversy. The former president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was forced to resign in May, alleging he was fired for getting “too close to the truth.” Last year, other documents leaked by the pope’s butler and other sources revealed the depth of the internal tug of war over financial transparency, with Vatican reformers pitted against traditionalists who appeared to believe the church should answer only to a higher power.

On Friday, the pope backed a decision by the commission of cardinals to name Ernst von Freyberg to the head of the Vatican Bank. The German-born lawyer and member of the ancient Knights of Malta was selected, the Vatican said, because of “his vast experience.” However, Italian commentators were quick to question why the choice was not left to the incoming pope.

“It seems like an attempt to force the situation, not to leave the new pope an option,” said Massimo Franco, author of “The Crisis of the Vatican Empire” and a columnist at Corriere della Sera. “I find it quite strange that this is the last major act of the pope.”

Scandals at the Vatican Bank was one of the first serious problems John Paul II had to face. Plus ça change, and all that. Seems that the mess at the Vatican Bank — which the Italian government has just forbidden Italian banks from doing business with because of its (the Vatican Bank’s) shadiness — was one of the things that wore Benedict down.

In other Benedict news and commentary, Damon Linker points out that the Vatican can’t continue to do business as usual, indifferent to the global media culture that has come into being with the Internet. Excerpt:

The Catholic hierarchy may have gotten away with such clericalist corruption in an earlier time, when news traveled slowly and information was very hard to come by. But it will become increasingly untenable in a world of instantaneous communication in which ordinary lay people (and good old-fashioned muckraking opportunists) are empowered by technology to seek out and publicize the truth — even when, or especially when, it exposes malfeasance in a hierarchical, anti-democratic institution. Every moderately intelligent and articulate critic of the church around the globe now has access to information and the opportunity to express dismay and disgust on blogs and other websites. The nearly 2,000-year-old institution of the papacy — accustomed to moving at the pace of centuries — has no choice but to contend with these thousands of critics, many of them raising morally legitimate objections to this or that decision, questioning its wisdom, raising doubts in the minds of the faithful. It’s hard to imagine an institution less suited to mounting an effective defense against the critical onslaught.

This is a really important point, no matter where you stand on the liberal-conservative theological spectrum. The thing American Catholics call The Scandal — meaning the sex abuse scandal that broke wide in 2002 — was only made possible by the Internet. A Boston judge released documents from the Geoghan trial, and thanks to the Internet, they were widely available. All the reporting from the Boston Globe was available to anyone with an Internet connection. Not only that, but all the scandal reporting anywhere was available to anyone. Reporters in other parts of the country became aware of what was happening in Boston, and started making inquiries locally. Catholics began talking about it too. I well remember those days, how important it was to read newsgathering and commentary from individual Catholic bloggers — I’m thinking specifically, for conservative Catholics, the work of Amy Welborn and Mark Shea, but there were many others — because they were able to post links and add credible commentary that was knowledgeable in ways that the mainstream media couldn’t hope to touch. The MSM didn’t know what they had in many cases, and the diocesan media was utterly outclassed by Catholic bloggers. There was no way to control the story and what Catholics said about it. For better and for worse, this was the new reality, and it had an enormous impact. It wasn’t that the scandals were any worse in 2002 than they had been in the past; it was that finally, millions of people could not only learn about them without depending on media gatekeepers or the Church, and could talk about them.

This is the world that the Vatican (and all religious authorities) lives in now. There’s no going back. Some years ago, a conservative friend asked in my presence: How is it possible for any institution to maintain authority in this media environment? He meant the relentless questioning and fierce transparency the Internet compels. I think about this question all the time.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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