New York Times Ushers Pope Benedict Out Under Clouds of 'Scandal and Intrigue'

Pope Benedict XVI served his final day as pontiff on Thursday, and the New York Times' Rome bureau chief Rachel Donadio sent him on his way from Vatican City under a dark cloud: "As Pope Departs, Discord Remains at Vatican."

As the sun set on Rome and on his turbulent eight-year papacy, Pope Benedict XVI, a shy theologian who never seemed entirely at home in the limelight, was whisked by helicopter into retirement on Thursday.

But while Benedict, 85, retires to a life of prayer, study, walks in the garden and piano practice, he leaves in his wake a Vatican hierarchy facing scandals and intrigue that are casting a shadow over the cardinals entrusted with electing his successor in a conclave this month.

The negative focus on "scandals and intrigue" has been the dominant tone of coverage of the Vatican since the Pope announced his resignation on February 11.

Today, as Pope Benedict XVI becomes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the paper ran an op-ed from Georgetown professor Paul Elie who advised U.S. Catholics to" "Give Up Your Pew for Lent" in protest of apparently everything since "Benedict took office in 2005: a papal insult to Muslims; a papal embrace of a Holocaust denier; molesting by priests and cover-ups by their superiors. When the Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned on Monday amid reports of “inappropriate” conduct toward priests in the 1980s...." The text box: "If the pope can resign, American Catholics can, too – for a weekend."

On Thursday the paper ran an op-ed from liberal Swiss theologian Hans Kung, whose authority to teach theology has been rescinded by the Vatican, in which he hoped for "A Vatican Spring?" and compared the Catholic Church to "an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia."

The headlines to the news stories also captured the opinionated, "scandalous" flavor of the paper's coverage:

"Rome's Fallible Conclave" -- Laurie Goodstein, February 27.

"Scandals and Intrigue Heat Up at Vatican Ahead of Papal Conclave' -- Rachel Donadio on February 24.

"'Constant Drumbeat' Hastened the Pope’s Exit." – Donadio, on the front page of the Times on February 13.

"A Turbulent Tenure for a Quiet Scholar." – Laurie Goodstein on the front page February 12, the day after Pope Benedict announced his resignation.