Holy See-it! The pope resigns
Hebrew media review

Holy See-it! The pope resigns

The Israeli press is agog to learn who'll replace Benedict XVI, and gossips about scandals that wracked Rome in his reign

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Pope Benedict XVI (photo credit: AP/Isabella Bonotto, file)
Pope Benedict XVI (photo credit: AP/Isabella Bonotto, file)

The Israeli media goes catholic in its coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise renunciation of the triregnum on Monday — the first incident of its like in nigh unto thirty-score years. Benedict, the octogenarian, Germanic Bishop of Rome who ascended the Holy See in 2005 after the demise of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, adorns the frontispieces of every newspaper in the land. The word of the day, however, is scandal.

The Supreme Pontiff told the assembly in Rome that he had “come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry… [which] must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.”

“However, in today’s world… in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that at the press conference where the Vicar of Jesus Christ announced his departure, there was only one reporter present who understood Latin, and immediately grasped the significance of the incomprehensible verbiage he spake.

Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican correspondent for Italy’s ANSA news agency, was consequently the first to break the news that shook the Christian world. (The lead of Yedioth Ahronoth, incidentally, appears to be lifted directly from a Huffington Post article from Monday afternoon.)

The paper’s European correspondents write that Benedict’s unprecedented resignation in the modern age granted him the grace of being remembered for that fact, and not “as he who became entangled over and over in scandals.” They write of his welcoming of a Holocaust-denying bishop to the church, of his “unsuccessful” visit to Israel in 2009 — “to say the least” — and his controversial statements about Islam that enraged the Muslim world. His pinnacle of misjudgment, the paper says, was his stance on pedophilia charges against Catholic priests and refusal to have the Church take responsibility for them.

Maariv’s columnist Nadav Eyal writes that “[Benedict’s] tenure will always be remembered as the one that came after the popular John Paul II. Behind its human gestures hid absolute ideological rigidity,” he writes. He, too, mentions the same scandals that plagued the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, and concludes that “after all these stories, it’s not a surprise that [Benedict’s] friends were thankful that he aged greatly in the past several months. The energetic and aggressive conservative was defeated by the shadowy circumstances of the Church.”

The paper publishes the names and faces of the front-runners to succeed Benedict, the most interesting of whom are two African cardinals, one from Ghana and the other from Nigeria. The prospect of a black Catholic pope tickles Maariv’s fancy. It writes that Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson “speaks Hebrew, in addition to many other languages under his command, and is regarded as a very beloved figure in his country. He is popular and modest on the one hand, and on the other hand well-known for his weekly telecast.”

“His critics find fault in his refusal to consider approving condom use for preventing AIDS. He likewise vehemently denounced Islam,” it notes.

Israel Hayom columnist Boaz Bismuth writes that in resigning, Benedict XVI surpasses his predecessor on the papal throne, John Paul II, in his humanness to Catholics. He, too raises the issue of the scandals that broke during Benedict’s reign as Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, noting that had he resigned earlier it would have generated a rumor mill that would have seriously harmed the Church. Now it is merely a sign of mortality.

As for Haaretz’s coverage of the Servant of the Servants of God’s abandonment of his post, Anshel Pfeffer says Benedict (incorrectly referred to in Haaretz’s English translation as the Vicar of Rome) was “an arch-conservative who has not truly succeeded in steering the largest religious establishment in the world through the storms of female ordination, mass cover-up of sexual abuse by clergy and rank corruption within the Curia.”

“In any case, the new pope will need to bridge between the conservative branch of the Church and the growing liberal forces, who will demand a certain flexibility on burning issues like family planning, the place of women in the Church hierarchy, and sexual crimes among members of the clergy — and it won’t suffice to transfer guilty clergymen from place to place,” he writes.

Yedioth Ahronoth also reports on Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid’s opening speech at the Knesset in which he lambastes the ultra-Orthodox for threatening a civil war over the universal draft issue.

“Ten percent of the population can’t threaten the other 90 percent with a civil war,” he said. “A civilized society is not run by threats, and if Israel is deterred from acting because of these threats, it renders meaningless the whole idea of democracy.”

His successor at the podium, reports Yedioth, was Deputy Education Minister Menachem Eliezer Mozes (United Torah Judaism), who jabbed at Lapid by referring to his grandfather’s Orthodox Jewish way of life (hinting that Lapid had abandoned it) and asked: “Why do you want to cut our allowances, so that there will only be families with few children here?”

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