Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 83rd birthday yesterday. Usually in life, octogenarians are settled quietly in retirement from their professional lives. However, the profession of Pope, the leader of the worlds’ Catholic Church is an exception. Monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain usually reign until their natural deaths and then the heir to the throne immediately assumes the mantle of monarchy. However, Popes once again are the exception. When Popes depart the temporal life their successor is elected from the Sacred College of Cardinals. There is no heir to the Chair of Saint Peter; however there are many potential candidates for the job in the Sacred College. Pope Benedict XVI seemingly is still extremely fit to carry on the responsibilities of the vocational office of Pope, despite the speculation of worldwide media that he should resign in light of the clergy sex abuse scandal that continues to plague the Church on a global level.

Catholics should celebrate the fact that Benedict XVI is celebrating his 83rd birthday and is still seemingly healthy and active in the daily governance of the Church. His predecessor, John-Paul II was incapacitated by illness and hindered from actively governing the Church in his later years. Perhaps the physical condition of John-Paul II in the twilight of his papacy contributed to the complexity and depth of the festering problems of sex abuse throughout the world. Most likely, the late Pope was more focused on the difficulties of progressive illnesses and the pending journey to eternal life rather than strongly handle the crisis. During the administration of the late Pontiff’s Church, then Cardinal Ratzinger was left to effectively handle the erupting crisis in the most appropriate manner possible. After all, he himself was a subordinate to John-Paul II and the final decisions rested with him.

Other points of consideration are these: Both men experiences repressive regimes during the Second World War, namely the NAZIS. John-Paul experienced the oppression of the Cold War with the rise of Soviet Communism in addition to the atrocities of the Hitler regime. Perhaps the pervasive and deeply ingrained sense of clandestine Catholic activities during the Second World War and the Iron Curtain contributed to the handling of the clergy sex scandal with the same secretive nature. The personal and professional developments of both Benedict and John-Paul are situated in a world that was distinctly clouded by fear, terror and secretive activities. It should be no surprise to Catholics and secular observers then that the ineffective handling of the crisis would also be enigmatic in nature.

Despite their ideological and theological backgrounds, both Popes tried to handle the developing crisis in their own ways. However, as the details are unfolding the papacy of John-Paul despite his global Super-Star status did not effectively deal with matters of administration and disclosure of abusive priests to secular authorities. The late Pontiff if anything perhaps erred on the side of paternal and pastoral charity in regards to the accused priests and remanded them to lifestyles of prayer and penance.

The birth of the new papacy of Pope Benedict XVI was indeed a remarkable event. The second Pope of the modern era, not to be of Italian descent was a milestone that hailed the complex international texture of the Church’s modern activities. It clearly illustrated the emergence of the Catholic Church as an international and global presence that insisted on bringing the Gospel of Christ to the international family of nations with a more traditional Catholicism. Despite this entrance into the world of Vatican geopolitics, there were internal factors that Benedict inherited from his presumed saintly predecessor namely, the problems of priestly sex abuse and the manner in which the Church should handle the problem. The new Pontificate of Benedict began to handle the unfinished work of John-Paul in the application of disciplinary actions against priest abusers, and the situation seemed to subside.

Papa Ratzinger so far has acted quickly to deal with the sex abuse scandal. The task of reversing centuries old Church behavioral responses is a somewhat massive undertaking. The modern world’s notion of full and complete disclosure is not something that the Church’s Curia has experienced in its daily operational and administrative activities in running the Catholic Church. Confidentiality and secrecy go hand in hand with the Catholic hierarchy and those two notions permeate to the clergy in the field all over the world. A similar policy of, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell!” exists within the military services of the United States regarding homosexual activities of its soldiers. It could be argued that the same adage is something that is shared among the fraternal communities of bishops, priests and deacons in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately and shamefully, that code of fraternal silence has allowed the proliferation of criminal activities that violate the most basic premises of human trust among children and young people in the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI in dealing with the existing problem has already made great strides in nurturing a solution to handling the problem. Now is the time for the total and complete disclosure of the Catholic Church regarding all immoral and illegal carnal activities with prosecution by civil authorities, with clerical removal from Holy Orders and pastoral activities? While the measure might seem Draconian in the administration of justice, it is the only way to restore confidence in Catholic clergy globally and reconcile the shreaded garment of the Church’s life.

Pope Benedict XVI is moving towards a collective restoration of trust in the Church by clearly stating that any acts of abuse should be immediately handed over to civil authorities. This is clearly a signal to the international community that this Pope means business and wants the entire situation brought to a healing conclusion.

Eighty-plus year olds that are Popes should not have to deal with problems of such gravity and nature. Quite frankly, the entire situation has caused decades of pain and suffering for all Catholics because of the insidious nature of the abuse, the institutional cover-up and the continued denial of institutional responsibility. However, it seems now that the actions of Pope Benedict are moving the Church towards a full acceptance of the problem, and full resolution of the Church to this time solves the problem with expediency and full accountability.

The pontificate of Benedict XVI at the time of his election was initially perceived as a transitional papacy, namely to set the stage for perhaps a younger successor from a Third World country. Vatican observers expected the regnum of Benedict to be uneventful and frankly…boring. However, as Pope Benedict has illustrated, one should never expect the expected in the life of the Catholic Church. His papacy continues to unfold and evolve into one that will leave a deep impression on Catholic and non-Catholics alike for many years to come. The incumbent, Benedict XVI, is setting the stage for a new Catholic Church of the 21st century and beyond. It really does indicate that one can learn a lot from our elders, even if that elder is the Pope.

Despite the previously thought notion that the papacy of Pope Benedict was merely transitional, the Catholic Church continues to evolve in its understanding of its place as a global voice for the poor and oppressed . Benedict XVI might be considered a transitional Pope, but the transitional bridge he is building is similar to the great transitions in Church history and beliefs. The Church has moved from many schools of thought, from Augustine to Thomas, from medieval to modern, from Trent to Vatican II. Pope Benedict XVI, Pope, is forging a new transition of the Catholic Church that practices and follows the theological and philosophical adages it teaches.

Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict XVI and many more to come!

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://nothing-left-unsaid.blogspot.com . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Catholic Exchange, Pewsitter.com, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal,CatholicMom.com. & Catholic.net Comments are always welcome at hjmn4566@gmail.com.

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