I was in London's Heathrow airport when the BBC broke the news that 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI was resigning because of his health. He's the first pontiff in 600 years to step down.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the news crawl under file footage of Benedict was that his health was just a PR cover for deeper problems - specifically the ongoing Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal. The LA Times quoted religion expert David Gibson saying that while the pope "took a number of important steps to address the scandal of sexual abuse in the clergy".... Benedict's "failure to hold members of the hierarchy responsible is really going to be the lasting legacy of this pope in most people's minds."
And then there's the announcement that the LA Sheriff's Department and the LAPD are going to review the documents ordered released by the court last month on 122 priests Cardinal Roger M. Mahony fought for five years to hide. Mahoney got sacked earlier this month for his handling of the scandal - but the scandal just keeps deepening.
Last Saturday the LA Times reported that in 2007, Mahoney's Archdiocese "quietly appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund and used it to help pay a landmark settlement with molestation victims" - without telling the family members who'd paid into that maintenance fund. At the time, the church was facing a lawsuit from more than 500 victims, which the Times says could have resulted in a jury award and legal bills totaling more than $1 billion. The settlement gave each victim an average of $1.3 million - which Mahoney partially paid through a $175-million loan. The current Archbishop, Jose Gomez, is considering a $200-million fundraising campaign, though there is no mention made of selling off any of the Church's precious gold.
So imagine my surprise when I got home to WeHo, checked out the news and saw that lightning struck St. Peter's dome just hours after the pope announced his resignation. Coincidence? Message? As Mike Meyers used to say during his skit on SNL's "Coffee Talk with Linda Richman" - talk amongst yourselves.
To get your started - check out Lila Shapiro's take on the possibilities of Benedict's replacement in March for the LGBT community. She quotes Marianne Duddy-Burke, the director of Dignity-USA, as saying: "I feel like the hierarchy is so far removed from the needs of the people, and that's a huge problem...To me the real hope for change on these issues comes from the people in the church, not the leadership."