Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public prayer ceremony Sunday to a crowd of thousands at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
And he explained his decision to step down.
“Thank you for your affection,” the pope told the crowd as he appeared at the window of his apartment overlooking the square.
As is customary, he opened the weekly Angelus prayer with a short sermon.
Benedict spoke on the Transfiguration of Christ, one of the key moments in Jesus’ life on Earth, when, according to the church, he took three disciples to pray on a mountain. During his prayers, Jesus was miraculously changed and filled with light.
The crowd interrupted Benedict with rousing applause, as he told them that God wanted him to do the same.
“The Lord is calling me to go on top of the hill, to dedicate myself once more to prayer and meditation,” he said. “But this does not mean to abandon the church.”
The Vatican has attacked reports in the Italian media linking Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation to the alleged discovery of a network of gay prelates as attempts to influence the cardinals in their choice of a new pontiff.
The Vatican secretariat of state said in a statement: “It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave … that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”
The statement was made as Pope Benedict XVI had his final meeting with senior clerics, lamenting the “evil, suffering and corruption” that have defaced God’s creation in a final address to Vatican officials.
Benedict spoke on Saturday at the end of a week-long spiritual retreat coinciding with Lent, the period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. For the past week, Italian cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi has led the Vatican on meditations that have covered everything from the family to denouncing the “divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies” that afflict the Vatican bureaucracy.
UC Riverside professor Jennifer Scheper Hughes, who has studied Benedict’s reaction to liberation theology in Latin America both before and during his papacy, suggests that he leaves a painful legacy for Roman Catholics in the region. Says Hughes,
“Both as Cardinal Ratzinger and as Pope, Benedict devoted himself to a process of undermining, silencing, and marginalizing the theologians, priests, and religious who committed themselves to the liberation of the poor. His legacy in Latin America is precisely this: the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of liberation theology. Some in Latin America may hope that this period of antagonism has now come to a close. Others are, by now, far more cynical.”
DignityUSA, the advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, has called on supporters “for a period of prayer and reflection as we prepare for the conclave” to elect a new pope who may put an “end to statements that inflict harm on already marginalized people, depict us as less than fully human, and lend credence to those seeking to justify discrimination.”
“It’s hard to identify a figure who has been more oppressive to LGBT people in the religious world than Pope Benedict,” says DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke.
From the labeling of homosexuality as “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” in magisterial documents he developed as a cardinal, to condemnations of transgendered people as mentally ill, to more recent attacks on marriage equality as a deterrent to world peace, says Duddy-Burke, the current pope has actively worked to undermine the full equality of LGBT people and denigrated their human dignity. Duddy-Burke notes that the announcement of Benedict’s retirement on the eve of the Christian Lenten season provides an opportunity for deep reflection on the harm such words and actions do within and beyond the Church. She hopes such reflection will fuel action among the faithful in the pews.
The pope’s once-trusted butler went on trial Saturday for allegedly stealing papal documents and passing them off to a journalist in the worst security breach of the Vatican’s recent history — a case that embarrassed the Vatican and may shed further light on the discreet, internal workings of the papal household.
In its first hearing in the case, the three-judge Vatican tribunal threw out some evidence gathered during the investigation of butler Paolo Gabriele, who is charged with aggravated theft. It also decided to separate Gabriele’s trial from that of his co-defendant, a computer expert charged with aiding and abetting the crime.
Gabriele is accused of taking the pope’s correspondences, photocopying the documents and handing them to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book “His Holiness: The secret papers of Pope Benedict XVI,” was published to great fanfare in May.
Prosecutors have said Gabriele confessed to taking the documents because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the church. They quoted him as saying during an interrogation that he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to inform the pope about the church’s problems and that a “shock, even a media one, would have been healthy to bring the church back on the right track.”
Nuzzi on Saturday wished Gabriele well, tweeting “Good Luck, courageous Paoletto, we’re with you.” He referred to Gabriele by the diminutive nickname used by the pope and other members of the papal household.
The trial inside the intimate, austere courtroom was the highest-profile case to come before the Vatican judiciary since the 1929 founding of the Vatican city state, the world’s smallest sovereign state. Media from around the world converged on St. Peter’s Square to cover the case, which has attracted attention not so much because of the content of the documents but because they were stolen from the pope’s desk and leaked, allegedly by one of Benedict’s closest assistants.
Pope Benedict urged Arab leaders on Sunday at a huge open-air mass in Lebanon to work for reconciliation in a Middle East riven by Syria’s civil war and blazing with fury over a film mocking the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.
“May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East, the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence,” the pope said in a prayer after a mass that organizers said was attended by 350,000 people.
Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 18-month-old, mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect that grew out of Shi’ite Islam.
Few of the Christians who form about 10 percent of Syria’s population have joined the uprising. Some fear it could bring hostile Islamists to power in a fight raging just 50 km (30 miles) east of Beirut.
Addressing worshippers on the Mediterranean seafront, close to the front line of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, Benedict said Lebanese people “know all too well the tragedy of conflict and … the cry of the widow and the orphan”.
“I appeal to the Arab countries that, as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person,” the 85-year-old pontiff said.
The mood at the Vatican is apocalyptic. Pope Benedict XVI seems tired, and both unable and unwilling to seize the reins amid fierce infighting and scandal. While Vatican insiders jockey for power and speculate on his successor, Joseph Ratzinger has withdrawn to focus on his still-ambiguous legacy.
Finally, there is clarity. The Holy See has cleared things up and made the document accessible to all: a handout on checking whether apparitions of the Virgin Mary are authentic.
Everything will be much easier from now on. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a step forward.
This “breaking news” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reveals the kinds of issues the Vatican is concerned with — and the kind of world in which some there live. It’s a world in which the official Church investigation of Virgin Mary sightings is carefully regulated while cardinals in the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s administrative and judicial apparatus, wield power with absolutely no checks and the pope’s private correspondence turns up in the desk drawers of a butler.
It’s a completely different apparition of the Virgin Mary that has pulled the Vatican and the Catholic Church into a new crisis, whose end and impact can only be surmised: the appearance of a source in the heart of the Church, a conspiracy against the pope and a leak code-named “Maria.”
Leaders of the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ religious order knew that their most famous priest had fathered a child for many months before they acknowledged it this week, a top Vatican official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The once influential religious order, still in crisis following revelations that its founder was a sexual abuser with two secret families, suffered another major blow on Tuesday when American Father Thomas Williams admitted to having fathered a child with a woman in Rome.
(Williams is a former NBC News Vatican Analyst. Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC News and Microsoft)
The question left hanging was how long the order’s leaders knew about Williams’s secret life and why they continued to let him preach, teach and appear on television around the world, particularly in the United States.
“I found out about it this year,” Spanish Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, who was appointed by Pope Benedict in July, 2010 to oversee the restructuring of the order, told Reuters in a telephone conversation from his home.
Pope Benedict on Friday denounced the “powerful political and cultural currents” seeking to legalize gay marriage in the United States, where Maryland has just become the eighth state to allow it.
The pope’s latest comments in opposition to homosexual marriage came in an address to bishops from several Midwestern states on a regular visit to the Vatican.
“Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” he said.
He added that the traditional family and marriage had to be “defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature” because, he said, whatever injured families injured society.
“In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage (in the United States),” he added in a clear reference to gay marriage.
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday urged infertile couples to shun artificial procreation, decrying such methods as a form of arrogance.
Speaking at the end of a three-day Vatican conference on diagnosing and treating infertility, Benedict also reiterated church teaching that marriage is the only permissible place to conceive children. Matrimony “constitutes the only ‘place’ worthy of the call to existence of a new human being,” he said.
The pope pressed the church ban against artificial procreation, saying infertile couples should refrain from any method to try to conceive other than sex between husband and wife.
“The human and Christian dignity of procreation, in fact, doesn’t consist in a ‘product,’ but in its link to the conjugal act, an expression of the love of the spouses of their union, not only biological but also spiritual,” Benedict said.
He told the science and fertility experts in his audience to resist “the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility. Benedict cautioned the experts against “easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator,” an attitude he indicated underlies the field of artificial procreation.