VATICAN CITY - Nevermind the “courage, humility, respect and lucidity,” and the other praise we've heard associated with Pope Benedict XVI's historic decision to step down, he leaves behind a papacy stained with failure and a deep feeling of something left incomplete. On some matters, the Pope's decision is indeed a form of renunciation.
“Purification” and government
The Pope leaves the Holy See without having learned enough from the Vatileaks scandal. The release of confidential documents cast a light on the shady management of the Vatican's finance, exposed disagreements of the highest order on both the Church creed and its position on certain scandals, especially the cases and coverups of pedophile priests.
The internal investigation didn't reveal everything and we may come across new revelations from Rome. Rumors have been floating in the Italian media of an influential “homosexual lobby” in the Vatican. The “purification” operation launched by the Pope on the financial and sexual scandals has obviously failed. This fact, on top of his true physical exhaustion, undoubtedly weighed on his decisions.
Pressed by the European institutions to investigate the Vatican's insufficient efforts to eradicate money laundring, the Holy See tried to come clean. But the new president of the Vatican bank -- the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) --, a German layman, was appointed a few days before Benedict XVI announced his departure. The Pope's successor will thus be the one to grant him full authority and legitimacy.
Sex abuse scandals
Partly forced to focus on the matter by an investigation by the Irish national justice system, Benedict lifted the traditional Catholic silence regarding cases of clergy sex abuse. Earlier, he had condemned the Mexican founder of the influential Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, who had been defended for years by John Paul II despite multiple accusations for sex abuse.
More generally, the Pope's inability to settle personal disagreements, apply sanctions, correct dysfunctional matters within the Roman Curia -- as well as an exagerated loyalty towards his second in command, the controversial Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- resulted in a weakened papacy.
If in doubt about how much is left unfinished, go re-read the Pope's speech the day before he was elected and compare it with what he said about the state of the Church a few days before he was to renunciate. Eight years ago, he was worried about the “Church's stains,” now he points out again the “disfigured face of the Church, the divisions within the ecclesial circle and the rivalries.”
Failing to bring traditionalists back in fold
The attempt to reintegrate the arch-traditionalist Catholics, out of the fold since 1988, remains the most glaring failure of this Papal reign. He indeed promised it would be one of the main themes of his papacy. Until the very last moment, Benedict remained obsessed by a united church and held out for the possibility of reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), followers of the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had broken with the Church over the progressive reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
After years of correspondance and negotiations, the Vatican placed an ultimatum in which it asked for the SSPX to give an answer before Feb. 22. It seemed hard to imagine that they would change their minds after refusing for four years, days before their best ally inside the hierarchy was to leave the Vatican.
The pope leaves a Curia very much divided on this subject. His successor might not make this a priority.
An unpublished Encyclical
On a more theological point, some people were surprised that the Pope left his seat without publishing his Encyclical on faith. This third volume of the Encyclicals on “theological values” -- meant to be published in early 2013, after charity and hope -- could have been a priority for this trained theologian, concerned with reinforcing the faith of the believers.
At the same time, he took some time to finish the third volume of his personal work on Jesus, a first in a papacy. As a matter of fact, while he had called “the new evangelism” of de-Christianized societies a central point in his speeches, Benedict XVI won't give his insight on the matter.
Some people in Rome qualified as a “white bereavement” this unprecedented situation following his renunciation. There won't be a solemn gathering, typical of a Pope's funeral ceremony -- meaning that Catholics won't get their “closure” with a pope who decided to retire with no real pomp, nor liturgical proceedings whatsoever.