Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Catholic church's gay bishop controversy

Vatican officials have denied claims the Pope was forced to resign, as Benedict sits for his last general audience.

Pope Benedict XVI greets President Barack Obama in 2009

As Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the "choppy waters" that had characterised his papacy, church leaders were left to reflect on another week of controversy. First came the claim from Italian daily, La Repubblica, that the Pope had been forced to resign by the contents of a secret report into the 'Vatileaks' scandal. The report, said La Repubblica, contained information of political divisions within the church, including the blackmailing of gay clergymen. 

The Vatican barely had a chance to deny La Repubblica's "false and damaging" story before Scottish cardinal, Archbishop Keith O'Brein, was actually forced to resign amid allegations he had inappropriately approached other men over a period of 30 years. O'Brein had been scheduled to retire next month anyway, but will now forego his right to participate in the election of the new Pope. 

While O'Brein had opposed government legislation for gay marriage, he had recently indicated favouring some modernisation from the new church leader. Speaking on whether church officials should be allowed to marry he said: "The celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – in some branches of the Catholic church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again. 

"I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married."

Cardinal O'Brein's views had the support of many Catholics from across the Atlantic. A poll by Pew Forum recently found 58% of US Catholics would support priests being allowed to marry, while 46% of Catholics believe the church should move in a new direction. Pew's poll also indicated Benedict, who will take on the title of "pope emeritus" in his retirement, has also proven less popular with US Catholics than his predecessor. While Pope John Paul II had an approval rating of 93%, Benedict's has dropped to 74%. 

Traditionalists and modernisers may be divided on the merits of Benedict's legacy, but will be united by a desire to leave damaging controversies behind and instead look to the future. With the church determined to have a new pontiff in place by Easter, Benedict has helped speed the process by changing the electoral rules. Previously, deliberations could only begin after two weeks had passed since the previous Pope's death, or in this case resignation. However, the cardinals will now be able to begin the process of finding a new pope as early as Friday, only a day after Benedict retires. @Taalay

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