The wicked witch is not quite dead, but the present pope has resigned -- supposedly because he's getting old; but really, insiders say, because he can't control the violent politics in the Vatican except by the ultimate diffusion of renouncing the ring of the fisherman. For the first time in six centuries (when Gregory XII resigned to end a war between clerical factions) that ring will be ceremonially broken while the pontiff still breathes, to make way for his successor; and the arch-conservatives in the Mafia-besmirched Curia must face the uncertainty of what politics the next white smoke will bring.
My thought is that Benedict XVI resigned because he could no longer pretend he believes in the historicity of the founding myth, knowing as a scholar that it had never and could never be proved -- especially by the anti-intellectual fundamentalists bent on returning the world's remaining faithful to the Dark Ages where priests would never marry, women would never be priests, every act of sex must result in Sunday-generous children, and Jesus' face is actually imprinted on the shroud of Turin as certainly as Boccaccio's Friar Onion sold feathers from the Archangel Gabriel and breast milk from the Virgin Mary.
The decadence of this pope, who turns in St. Peter's keys on Feb. 28, is not only obvious from casual googling, but also written on his every photograph -- the weary, uninspiring scowl of cynicism also evident in portraits of Renaissance profligates Alexander VI or Leo X. It always amazed me that the sacred college of cardinals couldn't have found someone to elect who wasn't a childhood member of Hitler Youth! No wonder his loyal butler, after service in the Vatican under saintly John Paul, leaked secret documents from the Unholy See. Joseph Ratzinger may not have had female mistresses, but he obediently and infallibly excluded women from the altar, protected a molesting priest, inflamed the Muslim world, refused condoms to spouses married to HIV victims, and staunchly continued to sever divorced Catholics from the sacraments.
Don't get me wrong. I love what the Roman Catholic Church supposedly stands for -- the potential for the divine in every human being -- though I believe that's whether he or she is baptized or not. I just no longer believe the divine is institutionally enshrined in an organization that has condoned murder, genocide, "holy wars" and sordid sins of the shepherds against their flock for nearly its entire two millennia -- truly as sinful itself as the Roman Empire of which it is, after all, the continuation.
The divine is what I responded to as a kid growing up midst the incense, magical stained glass and haunting Gregorian chant. But I've long recognized that I also experience it in Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Francesco Goya's paintings, Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, Diane Arbus' photographs, Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and Paul McCartney's "Yesterday."
"Great poetry," said A. E. Housman, "makes your hair stand on end" -- and all the finest and best popular arts put us in touch with the transcendent and transformative best of the human spirit.
It's been a hard lesson growing up to the incontrovertible truth that the all too human hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church does not hold a hegemony on holiness, and that its ancient formula extra Ecclesia nulla salus ("outside the church no salvation") is the very root of its corruption. Not to mention the sacrament of Confession, which by allowing all sins to be forgiven allows all to be committed. That Jesus said to Simon Peter, "I give thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven," had to be the greatest piece of self-serving propaganda ever penned by a second century scribe. Justifying what an Irish-Canadian friend calls "centuries of organized thuggery."
Isn't it time that we all grow up, reject the charlatans that collect millions every Saturday or Sunday in the name of one intolerant God or another? Isn't it time that we embrace the patent reality that evil is our own fault and that it is our human responsibility, each and every one of us, to find, instead, the heaven in our hearts and manifest it in our daily deeds -- following the universal Golden Rule that nearly every spiritual doctrine in the world has advocated from time immemorial.
To restate all of the above more optimistically, thank you, Your Holiness, for, wittingly or not, setting an example. Let's all resign from this wrong-headed church and turn our hearts and minds to the God in whose "image and likeness" Genesis claims we are fashioned.
Dr. Atchity's first novel, "The Messiah Matrix," explores the labyrinthine politics of the Vatican, the doctrinal rivalries within the ancient church, and the enforced mysteries masking the true origins of Christianity.