Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing his resignation on Monday, becoming the first pope in more than half a millennium to step down from his position. Late night's most renowned Roman Catholic owned the story Monday night, devoting nearly all of "The Colbert Report" to the papal bombshell.
He began by expressing his surprise at the pope's decision to step down. “Popes don’t quit! God has a way of telling popes when it's time to retire. It’s called death!” he proclaimed, adding, “You didn’t see JP2 trading in his papal staff for a nine iron and moving to Boca.”
He noted that papal retirement is so rare that the Vatican doesn’t have a tradition for making this kind of announcement. “No pope is black smoke, a new pope is white smoke, I assume slacker pope is bong smoke,” he joked.
Colbert also wasn’t convinced by Benedict’s claim that he’s retiring due to infirmity: “You don’t get to leave for that. You think I’m mentally and physically up to doing my job? Absolutely not. I’m duct-taped into this chair every night.”
No, Colbert speculated, there must be more to the story. “Pope Benedict is clearly being pushed out,” he said. “I know this may shock you, but it is possible that the Catholic Church is involved in a coverup.”
He also wondered what Benedict would do with all his new-found free time. Would he, like a certain former president in the news last week, take up painting? “I’m sorry but I have no interest in seeing his self-portrait in the shower,” Colbert declared.
Worst of all, the pope’s departure on Feb. 28 is going to leave the church’s top vacant for as long as a month. Colbert predicted “a Catholic free-for-all” where the once-devout will be “passing out Pez dispensers full of birth control pills, using the Lord’s name in vain, coveting thy neighbor’s wife, killing anybody you want. It’ll be like being a Presbyterian.”
Colbert eventually turned to the subject of Benedict’s successor, arguing that a pope from Africa would send a welcome message of inclusion and also “virtually guarant[ee] ‘Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Rome.’ ” Naturally, though, Colbert concluded that since the Bible is in English, the new pope should be an American, and bestowed the famed “Colbert bump” upon New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Elsewhere in the pope-tastic episode, Colbert chatted with his show's resident chaplain, Father James Martin, about his own chances for becoming pope (alas, they’re pretty slim) and with author Gary Wills about the role of priests in the church.
For a Catholic like Colbert, it was a once-in-a-millenium kind of show.