Resignation isn’t in Benedict’s vocabulary. The real reason he has quit is far more spectacular.
It is to save the Catholic Church from ignominy: he has voluntarily delivered himself up as a sacrificial lamb to purge the Church of what he calls ‘The Filth’. And it must have taken courage.
Here is the remarkable thing you are seldom told about a papal death or resignation: every one of the senior office-holders in the Vatican – those at the highest level of its internal bureaucracy, called the Curia – loses his job.
A report Benedict himself commissioned into the state of the Curia landed on his desk in January. It revealed that ‘The Filth’ – or more specifically, the paedophile priest scandal – had entered the bureaucracy.
He resigned in early February. That report was a final straw. The Filth has been corroding the soul of the Catholic Church for years, and the reason is the power-grabbing ineptitude and secrecy of the Curia – which failed to deal with the perpetrators. Now the Curia itself stands accused of being part of The Filth.
Benedict realises the Curia must be reformed root and branch. He knows this is a mammoth task.
He is too old, and too implicated, to clean it up himself. He has resigned to make way for a younger, more dynamic successor, untainted by scandal – and a similarly recast Curia.
Benedict was not prepared to wait for his own death to sweep out the gang who run the place.
In one extraordinary gesture, by resigning, he gets rid of the lot of them.