I heard the radio bulletin last week, and the reality of the news took a few minutes to sink in.

The pope, Benedict XVI, was resigning his position at the end of February.

It’s the first time in 600 years this has happened. Church tradition is that the pope remains in that role until he dies.

In fact, it wasn’t until the next day, when I’d had time to ponder the magnitude of the announcement, that I fully realized what it meant.

Was he resigning, quitting, dropping out or just retiring? All of the above, but the import of what it means to the billions of Roman Catholics around the world is staggering.

And, of course, there were the expected questions: Why, and what will he do?

Knowing the rabid anti-Catholic sentiment permeating mainstream media, I wasn’t surprised at their reaction. They were almost swooning over the news.

It took longer for the reality of the news to be clear to me than it was for them to jump in with both feet. They used it as the springboard to unload the big guns, let loose with a barrage of criticism and insults, aiming them at the man – trashing him, his church, the faith and Catholic believers across the world.

One thing is certain. If Catholics responded to criticism of their faith as many Muslims do, these so-called reporters would keep their mouths shut. Insulting they are; brave they are not.

Not only were there instant attacks on the man and his role as pope, but also vicious innuendos about his life leading to the momentous occasion of his being chosen the pope following the death of Pope John Paul II.

The reality is, the media weren’t – and aren’t – interested in the truth of why an 85-year-old man, in apparently failing health, might choose to step down from his important position so that another, more able to shoulder the enormous burdens of the job, could be selected.

In the “real” world, that would be considered a noble decision – one that puts the welfare of the organization, in this case, the Roman Catholic Church, ahead of ego and personal aggrandizement.

But, no. We’re talking about the Catholic Church, considered “fair game” for ridicule, insult and derision.

No sooner had the story cleared the news wires than suppositions about “why” Pope Benedict was retiring burst forth on every type of program – news, entertainment, comedy, late night, talk radio, every form of print and of course, the Internet.

Virtually every insult involved scandals the Church has faced – notably the accusations of child molestations by priests – everything was fuel for the fire. But the pope himself was ripped to shreds, in most cases, simply because he is Catholic and represents the biggest and most powerful church on the face of the earth.

In the eyes of these media critics, nothing the Church does is acceptable and their goal is to destroy it.

There’s no doubt that for the large proportion of media, the Catholic Church is an anachronism that deserves to be tossed into the scrap heap of history.

To them, Church doctrine and teachings are old-fashioned, restrictive nonsense.

To them, the grandeur of the traditions, the doctrine and the beliefs of the faithful mean nothing.

To them, it’s all just a lot of expensive pomp and meaningless circumstance.

Not surprisingly, the most vicious attacks come from “former” Catholics, former nuns or priests and current “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose what they say they believe.

While good Catholics might pray for the lost faith of those people, they cannot condone the ongoing barrage of ridicule and lies about their faith.

Personally, I’m sick of all that and am furious.

I’m tired of lapsed, fallen away Catholics expounding in the media that “I am Catholic,”  “I was brought up Catholic” and then they ridicule every aspect of the religion.

Living as I do in the San Francisco Bay Area, that mantra is all too common, especially on liberal talk radio where it seems fallen-away Catholics congregate and never tire of ridiculing their former faith.

It’s too bad they didn’t learn a bit of tolerance in their former religious training to at least shut up and keep their imbecilic and uninformed opinions to themselves.

I wish.

I admit, I wondered about Pope Benedict’s health recently. He hasn’t looked well, but considering the battles he’s faced over the last eight years, I’m not surprised he’s weary.

He was hated by liberals from the moment he was elevated to the papacy.

Not me. I cheered when I heard that news bulletin!

Benedict is a traditional conservative. During his eight years as pope, he’s moved the Church back toward traditional worship and away from the liberal excesses of Vatican 2, which resulted in so many disillusioned Catholics.

In light of the challenges facing the Church, as well as society as a whole, Benedict decided the job needed someone more able to carry the responsibility.

As reported by the Associated Press, during his final homily on Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict spoke of his hope for a united church that isn’t “defined” by internal rivalries.

He also spoke directly to the faithful: “As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church.”

The words of a good, holy and truly brave man of God.

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