The Daily Telegraph report of 26 February has Prof Tom Devine, a Roman Catholic academic, saying that there is an absence of proof and absence of denial in the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh is thus presenting Scotland with its biggest crisis regarding Roman Catholicism since the Reformation. Certainly, Benedict XVI acted fast before his own resignation took effect.
What we are seeing surely is something far greater than an event in Scotland. We are seeing the unravelling of an authoritarian institution because that authoritarianism allowed it to be riddled with practices of a distrustful kine, whether it be boys, trainee priests or girls affected by pregnancy. The Church more broadly has exploited and has been cruel.
It is rotten in the same way as the selling of undulgences was rotten, but this is directly unethical whereas that was supernaturalism used for profit. This is probably why Benedict XVI threw in the towel: the job to sort out the mess is simply too big for him to do. The problem is if it is too big for any Pope to do. The institution needs reform so thoroughly that it can become accountable. It needs significant lay involvement, priests that marry and have other consenting relationships, and women in the clergy. In other words it needs a revolution, but the sort a Pope can bring - the authoritarian hand that opens things up.
Now we know what happens when an authoritarian hand opens things up to scrutiny. Not so many decades ago, a chap decided, initially that it was consistent with Lenin to introduce Glasnost and Perestroika. Later he dropped that highly doubtful association for legitimacy and regarded it as, more simply, democratic. Gorbachev and the Sovient Union was a history of openness and change, dodging and weaving, going to the right again, being taken over, being rescued by the forces he'd released, and then disintegration, followed by a slow return to authoritarianism on the smaller body but not as ideological or complete as before.
This Pope now resigning had himself decided on a policy of making a smaller, purer, and as authoritarian Church. It would be Eurocentric as before: doctrinal, theological, dogmatic and priestly. But it didn't involve tackling the rot; he tackled the rot separately and reluctantly - "behind the curve". And it has undermined everything.
Imagine a pope soon that opens the institution up. So first it would unleash a relief and responsiveness on the ground. Secondly it would get a backlash from conservative forces still in power. The reforming Pope would have to duck and weave. If he was overcome, he'd need the forces unleashed to insist on and restore the openness that most had started to enjoy. If they did restore openness, the instuitution could crash down about itself - bishops being accountable, in paticular, and undergoing severe loss and sharing of power, with less pyramdal power. The Church might shatter into different Roman Catholic Churches around the world.
Perhaps a start would be other accused Cardinals not turning up to elect the next pope.On its own choosing a new pope is nothing, but to choose reform does have the danger of the lid blowing off. Not much then rides on the near future.