The worst pontiff of my lifetime announced today that he will step down citing health concerns. But one wonders if he is really abdicating, or simply absconding in an pope-benedict1-630x431effort to escape potential ramifications over the awful child rape scandal that has plagued his papacy?

It just seems inconceivable, that absent scandal, a lifetime social climber would so easily give up power and the trappings of the Vatican, including his fancy Prada shoes and luxury Pope mobile. And, after all, the last time a Pope abdicated was 1415. Somehow, I don’t think Ratzinger wanted to break tradition so he had more time for golf.

According to a statement, Pope Benedict XI said:

“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

There are many of us wondering if the Pope elected to resign after he saw his future by watching the slow motion train-wreck that beset retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who we now find even bilked the dead to pay the cost of sexual abuse lawsuits.

Pressed to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to settle clergy sex abuse lawsuits, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony turned to one group of Catholics whose faith could not be shaken: the dead.

Under his leadership in 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles quietly appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund and used it to help pay a landmark settlement with molestation victims.

While Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka The Inquisition), he oversaw reams of documents dealing with the sordid child rape scandals. He wasn’t just in the loop — he was the loop.

Perhaps, there are documents expected to surface that place him at the center of the awful cover-up? If his behavior came to be viewed as unseemly as that of Cardinal Mahony, it would have led to international pressure for him to resign. By leaving now, he can spare the institution embarrassment and humiliation — and have the easily distracted media focus on the future rather than the putrid past.

I’m actually disappointed that this Pope is resigning. He was an incredibly unsympathetic figure and seemed to personify the retrograde policies on gays and women that his papacy promoted with unrestrained gusto. It is better, in my opinion, to have a leader with the face of Dr. Evil, than a Pope like John Paul II, who was beloved for looking like he came from Central Casting. Pope Benedict was so personally unappealing, that it put his policies in the spotlight, and gave him little leeway in the pedophile priest disaster.

Given that the last two conservative popes stacked the deck and collected Cardinals who shared their backward views, there is little hope the new pontiff won’t share their sexism and homophobia. The only thing that might stop this slide into moral oblivion is if the church starts draining money and members. That is why I have written that liberal and mainstream Catholics should leave the church to find religious institutions that match their values.

While the news media reports that the Pope is stepping down due to infirmity, I speculate that he might actually be eluding greater infamy and getting out of Dodge before the impending storm descends on Rome.