Will his successor be more sympathetic to gender and sexual orientation human rights?
Not likely, because Benedict has packed the college of cardinals - who will choose the next Pontiff - with loyal fellow conservatives.
We live in hope of a miracle but....
Here’s how the new Pope could show moral leadership by ditching his predecessor’s reactionary policies and modernising the Catholic Church:
Benedict XVI's resignation gives the Catholic Church a chance for reinvention
Peter Tatchell writes for MSN today (12 February 2013):
The resignation of Benedict XVI - unprecedented for a Pope in six centuries - offers the Catholic Church an extraordinary opportunity for positive change and reengagement with the wider world.
Having broken the tradition that a Pope is for life, millions of grassroots Catholics hope the new Pope will seize his moment to revise harsh Vatican policies that have caused so much harm - and which have left the papacy socially marooned and out of touch with the modern world.
For many people of all faiths and none, Pope Benedict was stuck in dogma. While he took a strong, commendable stand against war and global poverty, he failed to meet contemporary challenges on a range of burning social and moral issues, as I explored in my 2010 Channel Four documentary, The trouble with the Pope.
The new Pontiff could start this renewal process by remedying the shameful sexism that lies at the heart of Catholic doctrine: its opposition to women’s ordination. The idea that women are unfit to be priests is an insult to the whole female sex. It suggests that women have no moral capacity for spiritual leadership. This imposition of a male-only priesthood is pure patriarchy.
Since the invention of artificial contraception, successive Popes have condemned it as a sin. This needs to change. Church policy condemns many poor parents to have large families that they can’t adequately support. In some countries, priests spread the lie that contraception makes women sick, as I discovered when I went to the Philippines.
A new Pope also needs to revise the Vatican’s opposition to IVF fertility treatment. This treatment gives childless couples the chance of parenthood. For the church to oppose such treatment is very odd, since it claims that having children is God’s will. So why deny the option of parenthood to infertile couples?
It’s also overdue for the Catholic leadership to embrace potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research, which could help find cures for terrible illnesses like motor neurone disease; thereby reducing suffering, improving people’s quality of life and saving lives. Surely this research is fulfilling Christian values and ideals?
Benedict XVI denounced the use of condoms, even to stop the spread of HIV; thereby putting millions of lives at risk. He even went as far as claiming that condom usage may “increase” the rate of HIV infection.
These dishonest, immoral teachings need to be dumped. Condoms are life-savers and the new Pontiff should say so. Even he believes they are evil, surely they are the lesser of two evils?
The successor to Benedict XVI should also rein in the senior Vatican officials who are promoting the lie that condoms actually spread HIV because, they claim, latex is porous to the virus (sic). This is an outrageous falsehood and has been condemned as untrue and irresponsible by scientists and medical professionals.
A revision of the church’s hardline stance against homosexuality and gay human rights is much needed. The official Catholic doctrine is that same-sex relationships are an “objective disorder” and a “strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.” Rejecting the concept of gay human rights, the last two Pope’s have asserted that there is no “right” to laws protecting homosexual people against discrimination, suggesting that the civil liberties of lesbians and gay men can be “legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct.”
The Vatican has also attacked same-sex marriages as “evil” and vilified supporters of gay equality as “gravely immoral.” Benedict XVI denounced homosexual equality as a “deviant trend” and condemned same-sex love as being “without any social value.” He even threatened to excommunicate Catholic legislators who voted for gay rights laws.
The current Pope’s successor must move on from this unbridled homophobia, to embrace loving, stable, faithful same-sex relationships. According to the Christian gospel of love, the yardstick for judging the morality of any relationship should be the quality of that relationship, not the sexual orientation of the couple.
Unless the new Pope makes significant changes in doctrine and articulates a new caring, compassionate Catholicism, his church will become increasingly out of step and irrelevant to modern life - as well as continuing to cause great misery to millions of people.
The dramatic resignation of Benedict XVI could be an opportunity for Catholic renewal. Will the new Pope seize it?
This article was written by Peter Tatchell (http://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/) and was first published on was first published by MSN UK: http://on-msn.com/12bhexi