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A couple of days ago, a coworker announced that he knew why Pope Benedict was resigning.  "He's being pressured by this international group who has given a list of demands, and if the Catholic Church didn't comply by September 15th, they'll face a whole bunch of trials for crimes against humanity and get pushed out of five different countries."

[Image: ITCCS+Protest+outside+the+Dail_Dublin_April+2010.jpg]
ITCCS Ireland overwhelms Dublin with its numbers (4/2010).

Aw, jeez.  I like my coworker, but he's a Jehovah's Witness, which means that: 1) he's most likely to be substantially misinformed about anything to do with Catholicism, and 2) as a function of that, confirmation bias will lead him to believe anything that portrays the Church in a negative light, especially if it has to do with the predator priest scandals.  (In fairness, as I told a friend on Facebook last night, the scandals have used up a lot of the Church's moral capital, and it will be a long time and a lot of vigilant diligence on the part of Church leadership before we earn it back.  Like maybe a century or so.)

Fortunately, he sent a link to the story[1] to the guy who sits next to me, who then forwarded it to me.  I also checked with Dave Pierre of The Media Report [2], especially as the story references the Magdalene Laundries scandal[3], which was recently exposed by the Irish government's McAleese Report[4] as mostly media-created fiction.  (Again, the point is not that "things weren't really that bad" but that "things were bad enough that exaggeration and bogus claims are both unnecessary and potentially counterproductive".)  As I suspected, ITCCS[5] is about as small as the picture above portrays, mostly the work of one man.  The deadline quoted was September 15th of last year:  "Gee, how are those 'halting of operations' and 'indictments' going?" Dave wondered.  "Not very well, from what I can see."

So this story, along with all the hype and suspiciousness from various sources pertaining to Papa Bene's resignation, inoculated me against the "explosive revelation[6]" that he resigned due to a high-level commission's report tying the "Vatileaks scandal" to a "homosexual network" and "[hinting] at the possibility that some Vatican officials were subject to blackmail".  Not that cardinals are inherently unable to lead double lives (I do know some Church history), or that homosexuals are less likely to engage in sexual blackmail than heterosexuals; rather, all conspiracy theories bear the burden of proof and should be met with polite skepticism until their case is completely made.

As Dr. Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican was reminded just yesterday.[7]

It's worthwhile reading Dr. Moynihan's complete post detailing the conversations and the analysis he performed on the La Reppublica piece.  "... [The] overall bottom line," Dr. Moynihan concludes, "is this: the article is a strange amalgem [sic] which makes unsubstantiated, un-sourced assertions about the Report of the three cardinals, weaves them into a story built around two quotes from Pope Benedict and one from Cardinal De Giorgi — none of which make a direct reference to the cardinals’ Report — and one un-sourced quote from 'a man close to the man who drafted the Report' which says the whole Report revolves around the two sins of adultery and stealing.  In short, there is nothing here to hang one’s hat on."

Now, those of us who aren't Italophones have to wait on people like Dr. Moynihan to analyze the Panorama piece which serves as La Reppublica author Concita De Gregorio's primary source.  In the meantime, John L. Allen, Jr. (who, alas, still works for the National Pseudocatholic Fishwrap)[8] reports that the Secretariat of State unleashed what for the Vatican is a blistering response to this latest "revelation":

    The freedom of the College of Cardinals, which is responsible for providing, under the law for the election of the Roman Pontiff, has always been strongly defended by the Holy See, as a guarantee of a choice that was based on evaluations addressed solely for the good of the Church.
    Through the course of the centuries, Cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures exerted upon individual electors or on the College of Cardinals. Such pressures had as their goal to condition the decisions, following a political or worldly logic.
    If in the past, the so-called powers, i.e., States, exerted pressures on the election of the Pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion that is often based on judgements that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the Church is living.
    It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the Conclave and the Cardinal electors will be held in conscience and before God, to freely indicate their choice, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions [bold font mine.—].
    In these moments more than ever, may Catholics focus on what is essential praying for Pope Benedict, praying also that the Holy Spirit enlighten the College of Cardinals, pray for the future Pope, confident that the future of the barque of Peter are in the hands of God.

I don't exactly know how this particular story puts pressure on the cardinal electors.  If the drive is to get a "reformer pope", then you need to remember that "reform" means something different to the hierarchy than it does to the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd.

In any event, the conclave can't elect a new pope soon enough.  The old joke runs, "If you can keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs, then you just don't understand the problem."  Oh, I understand it, alright:  People — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — have turned an historical trend into an iron law, a pseudo-tradition with an imputed irreformability of a papal definition or a conclave's anathema.  it's a historic moment, no doubt, and it will affect the future of the Church to a degree, but it's just not the game-changer people want it to be.

In fifty years, those of us left alive will wonder what the to-do was all about.  Benedict's reign will be notable in history for much more than his singular method of leaving it.

We're too close in time to the events, so bias could work either way. Let's take a temperature check in about twenty years (if God gives me so much life).