On February 11th of this year Pope Benedict XVI suddenly announced his resignation, the first Pope in 600 years to do so. Catholics all over the world were taken by surprise as the Pope outlined his intention to step down effective the end of February of this year.
Here in the Memphis area the local Bishop of the Archdiocese of Memphis, J. Terry Steib, voiced his shock at the papal announcement. "My initial reaction was really one of disbelief," Steib said. "I heard it on the radio and I said that must be some mistake here."
The sudden resignation of the Pope added only more consternation to the 1.5 billion Catholics worldwide that are struggling to deal with their already beleaguered church amid the scandals of the past involving priests and pedophilia.
It seems that this is a problem that just will not go away. Papers in Italy are carrying stories that the reason the Pope is stepping down may possibly have to do with the ugly issue of pedophilia again coming to the forefront.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports that one of the Cardinals that will vote for the Pope's successor, Roger Mahony, is in the middle of the controversy and according to their article "The most glaring example, which the Corriere della Sera covered recently, is Cardinal Roger Mahony. Many Catholic groups have called for the former archbishop of Los Angeles to stay at home and not to take part in the vote for the new Pope."
Another Cardinal, Timothy Dolan is also under close scrutiny. Dolan is under investigation for allgedly taking little or no action to identify and punish priests that have abused children, and for attempting to use other church finacial vehicles, such as the cemetery fund, to hide assets from lawsuits stemming from the abuse.
These allegations and investigations have led to speculation that the Pope is stepping down for reasons other than his health and age, as he has cited. Bishop Steib paints a different picture of the Pope's rationale. "He knew that he couldn't serve the Church in a manner that he should be serving the Church." Steib noted, "the Church needed to move on and he shouldn't be the one kind of holding the Church back."
There are many questions still to be answered and the investigations, and the lawsuits, will continue for some time to come.
The future of the Catholic church is yet to be determined.