Just days after Pope Benedict XVI returned from a 2010 trip to Britain where he met the queen and mended fences with the Anglicans, prosecutors in Rome impounded $30 million from the Vatican Bank in an investigation linked to money laundering.
In May, soon after the pope made an address on the priesthood, chastising those who sought to stretch the church’s rules and calling for “radical obedience,” Vatican gendarmes arrested Benedict’s butler on charges of theft after a tell-all book appeared, based on stolen confidential documents detailing profound mismanagement and corruption inside the Vatican.
Benedict had hoped that his papacy would rekindle the Catholic faith in Europe and compel Catholics to forge bonds between faith and reason, as he so loved to do.
But after a seemingly endless series of scandals, the 85-year-old who so ably enforced doctrine for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, seemingly came to understand that only a new pope, one with far greater energies than he, could lead a global church and clean house inside the hierarchy at its helm. In the end, Vatican experts said, he decided he could best serve the church by resigning, a momentous decision with far-reaching implications that are still not fully understood.
“It wasn’t one thing, but a whole combination of them” that caused him to resign, said Paolo Rodari, a Vatican expert at the Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio. Clerical sex abuse scandals battered the papacy relentlessly, erupting in the United States, Ireland and across Europe, all the way to Australia.
But the most recent, the scandal involving the butler, “was a constant drumbeat on the pope,” he said, hitting close to home — literally where the pope lived. In the end, Mr. Rodari said, the message was, “I can’t change things, so I will erase everything.”
While the pope clearly has been losing strength in recent years, some Vatican experts saw Benedict’s decision less as a sign of frailty than one of strength that sent a clear message — and a challenge — to the Vatican prelates whose misdeeds he had struggled to rein in: No one is irreplaceable, not even the pope.
Even the Vatican acknowledged this. “The pope is someone of great realism,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Tuesday. “And he knows very well what the problems and the difficulties are.”
Father Lombardi added: “I think this decision sends many messages to all of us, of humility, courage, of wisdom in evaluating one’s situation before God.” The resignation could “open the door for a potential wave of resignations” — including from within the administrative body known as the Curia, Massimo Franco, a political columnist at the Corriere della Sera daily newspaper and an expert in relations between Italy and the Vatican, wrote on Tuesday.
A weak manager further weakened by age — the Vatican said for the first time on Tuesday that the pope had a pacemaker — Benedict apparently no longer felt equal to the task of governing an institution that had lacked a strong leader for over a decade, ever since John Paul II began a slow descent into Parkinson’s disease.
It was another scandal-marred trip, this one to Mexico and Cuba in March, that seems to have finally persuaded Benedict to consider the idea of stepping aside, Vatican officials said.