By ERIC DUMO
After about 94 months in the saddle, Pope Benedict XVI originally known as Joseph Ratzinger before his ascension in 2005, would step down as head of the Catholic Church on February 28. The 85-year-old pontiff cited exhaustion and frail health as reasons for the move. “I have done this for the good of the church,” he said. “I did this in full liberty for the good of the church.
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.”
Although the news came as a rude shock to millions, religious, political and social leaders across the globe while reacting to the announcement, described the outgoing Pope as a man of wisdom and peace who strived for the common good of all. The Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, posited that he received the news of the pope’s decision with a profound heart but accepted the resolution in good faith. Father Aaron Melancon, a 43-year-old priest from the United States, described it this way.
“The news is quite shocking. We have love and affection for Pope Benedict. I loved his writing as a cardinal and as a pope. I loved the leadership under him. He is the second pope in history to break the tradition and I am not in favour of this decision, but it is his own.” The World Council of Churches, WCC, on its own revealed that it had accepted the resignation and would work closely with whoever comes on board. The Council’s general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, in a statement, expressed his appreciation for the Pope’s love and commitment to the Church and to the ecumenical movement.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had good words for the pontiff as well. She admonished his followers to respect the pope’s decision if truly the 85-year-old’s health won’t allow him continue in his post. While British Prime Minister, David Cameron said he will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions, U.S President, Barack Obama, wished the Pope and those saddled with the responsibility of selecting a successor well. Church leaders in Nigeria have been speaking, too. Many say Christ’s body would not remain the same without the enigmatic leader of more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics across the world. Most Rev. Alaba Job, Catholic Archbishop of Ibadan Archdiocese, said the Pope’s resignation though unexpected and demoralizing must be accepted by all, especially as it was in line with the Church’s doctrine.
“It is not a common thing,” he said. “In fact, it is rare to see a Pope resign and the last time this happened was centuries ago. “Though we did not expect it, we have to commend this man for the courage to take such a weighty decision as he has been doing well over the years.” Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, Most Reverend Felix Ajakaye, stands with Job in his thinking. He sees nothing big in the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to step down from his position at the end of this month. “It should not be regarded as a surprise because the laws of the Catholic Church (Cannon Law), allows it,” he began. “What the Pope has done is part of the church; the Pope can either die or resign but in the Catholic Church, there is no vacuum. By the letter Pope Benedict XVl wrote with his hands, he has defined what he wants to do; he has prayed over it.
He was elected Pope at the age of 78; his resignation shows that the Pope knows himself and the state of his health. “It is a lesson to all of us that we should let go when we know that we cannot continue. He has said that due to old age he cannot continue with the rigours of the papacy, so having studied himself, he decided to take a noble action.” Archbishop of Lagos, His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, also expressed surprise. “Nobody was expecting it. However, he is the only one who knows himself. He knows the state of his health. He knows how he is feeling when he wakes up in the morning. If he has examined his mind and he is at peace with his conscience. I think it’s good for him and the church in general.”
Elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005, Benedict becomes only the second head of the Catholic in nearly 700 years to relinquish his post and the first German to occupy the position in nearly 1,000 years. Throughout his time so far, he has ruled over a slower-paced, more cerebral and less impulsive Vatican, the holy city of Catholics tucked inside Rome, the Italian capital. But while conservatives celebrate him for trying to restore some sense of sanity in the movement, critics have rained hard knocks on him for turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and doing little to improve relations with Muslims, Jews and other Christian denominations.
The largest part of Pope Benedict’s time at the Vatican has indeed been marred by series of controversies, exposing clearly the filth in the Catholic fold. Accusations of child molestation by Catholic priests became widespread under his watch. Even though he ordered an official inquiry into such abuses in Ireland, which has since led to the resignation of several bishops, it has never been enough to erase the pains and shame brought about by the scandals. Many say the Pope had first had knowledge of sexual abuses than anyone else in church but did nothing significant to protect children and eliminate the monster. In fact for the dozens of individuals who fell prey to such molestations, the decision of the pontiff to step aside is seen as a calculated attempt at flushing down the countless sex scandals rocking the fold over the last three years.
From the Pope’s native Germany to the US, abuse victims and campaigners have continued to talk about their pains under an eight-year papacy that was barely able to defend the flurry of crimes uncovered from within it. Norbert Denef, 64, from the Baltic coast of north Germany, was abused as a boy by his local priest for six years. He took his pains to the bishop of Magdeburg in 2003 but was only offered €25,000 (then £17,000) in return for a signed pledge of silence. Even though he would later go on to take Vatican up on the issue, the response wasn’t significant enough. David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, an organisation with about 12,000 members, echoed Denef’s view in his own submission.
He nurses grudges against the outgoing Catholic head. “His record is terrible,” he says. “Before he became pope, his predecessor put him in charge of the abuse crisis. “He has read thousands of pages of reports of the abuse cases from across the world. He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the church yet he has done precious little to protect children.” Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor equally shared her thoughts on the subject. “I would like to congratulate Pope Benedict on his wise decision to retire before the very worst of what has been going on is discovered. I appreciate his alluding to some of it in his statement and assure him The Most High forgives those who can faithfully say they did wrong.
“The church has been brought into dreadful disrepute by lies and blasphemies against The Holy Spirit. Benedict’s greatest achievement is this act of retiring. There is a chance now for the church to be re-built and made fit to house The Holy Spirit,” she affirmed. Among the wrongs of the outgoing pope according to his critics is not crushing gay marriages and other abnormal sexual behaviours in the Church. They say he has staunchly resisted allowing women to be ordained as priests, and opposed embryonic stem cell research. They however acknowledged the fact that he retreated slightly from the position that condoms could never be used to fight AIDS. During a scandal over the Church’s business dealings, his butler was accused of leaking his private papers. Many critics say the shocking resignation of the Pope is not unconnected to some of these scandals.
But the problems are not peculiar to the Catholic fold, the Church all over the world have been hit by various scandals and controversies as well over the years. In Nigeria for example, many religious organizations and their leaders have grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons. The story of the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, also known as Reverend King, is still fresh. He has been condemned to death by hanging by a Lagos court for the role he played in the death of one of his church members seven years ago. The pastor set ablaze six members of his church in 2006 – Chiejina Olise, Chizoba Onuorah, Vivian Ezeocha, Jessica Nwene, Kosisochukwu Ezenwankwo and Ann Uzor who later died eleven days after the tragic incidence.
The news shook the entire country and opened fresh questions on the growing influence and powers of many Christian leaders across Nigeria. Last year, Bishop David Oyedepo, founder of Living Faith Bible Church, came under stiff criticism from the Daily Mail of UK when one of its journalists posing as undercover during one of his church’s programmes found evidences of fleecing worshipers with “spurious claims.” The publication said, “People were urged to give more money in return for blessings that were neither guaranteed nor cognisant of the realities on ground.” The report revealed how monies creamed off worshipers were being repatriated to Nigeria. The same publication a few weeks before that time had run a feature on another Nigerian pastor also in the UK, Alex Omokodu. The Daily Mail wrote that Omokodu claims on his website to have raised the dead twice. It went further to reveal another Pastor Mbenga of the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly who scam worshippers by selling olive oil and black currant drink at double the market price as “miracle cures”, capable of eliminating terminal diseases.
Though, the pastors mentioned all denied the allegations, observers say the reputation of the Church as a whole could be under serious disrepute if the issue of corruption and other forms of scandal are not swept out of the Christ’s body. Reverend Moses Iloh, pastor of the Soul Winning Church blames the commercialisation of churches and religious organisations as the main cause of some of the problems witnessed in the Christendom. Except greed is flushed out of the Church, the crises might persist, he fears. “You know the word bastard, when you talk about it people would say it is somebody whose father you do not know but the Bible say it is a crowd of undisciplined scoundrels who should not be in the Church,” he begins.
“The Bible said in Deuteronomy that bastards must not be in the Church. Today, what you call the Church contains all kinds of people. We are raising up undisciplined people, pumping them into the society. So, where do you go from here. “When you are talking about the Church you must be very careful because it is the body of Christ. But what we have today are Christian congregations and Christian enterprises, so we must be very careful. The Bible says when you have bastards in your midst; everybody in the congregation would be bastards. The Bible says these ones should never be found in the Church but today they predominate it. People who prefer to worship money are all found in it. The time has come if we really want to heal this country for the Church to be courageous.
“People go to Church not to worship God but to ask God for something. So, there is a lot of abuse of the scripture. Those who have courage must begin to say it, repent or perish. We must stop commercializing the Church, it is not a business. People must learn to obey the simple principles of the Bible. It says seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you. Today, we are seeing people seeking money first before God himself.
This must change if we are to see and end to some of the crises we have seen in the Church in recent years,” he said. Dr. Michael Kunnuji, Sociology teacher at the University of Lagos, fingered the poor economic situation of most developing societies like Nigeria as the cause of many of the problems the Church is now faced with. However, he pointed that without the Church and indeed religion, most societies would not be standing today regardless of the several scandals that have been unearthed over the years. “In spite all the crises, religion is still playing a major role in the society,” he says.
“It is keeping a lot of people who ordinarily could have gone into crime and it also gives hope to those that ordinarily one would have considered hopeless. People who should have picked up arms and start fighting on the grounds that life has not been fair to them. For that reason, religion is still playing a major role. “If you look at some other countries of the world, people who feel displeased with the society, they take up guns, kill anybody in sight and kill themselves. But here, religion is still playing a major role, it is checking them in a way.
“It is possible that some people are using the economic state of the country to take advantage of people. People embrace the Church because of their fears and frustrations and some pastors are taking advantage of this situation. “Some of these pastors hold their members down by imploring different means. They make them think up side down. Some believe that the moment they have a little oratory skill and then they can get a little spiritual power to perform little miracle, then they can start a church and make a wonderful pastor.