VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced he would resign, citing old age, in a stunning announcement that marked a first in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
The German-born pope said he would step down on February 28, which will make him the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the 85-year-old pope said in a speech delivered in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican.
Dressed in red vestments and his voice barely audible as he read from a written text, the pope made the announcement in a hall in his residence— the Apostolic Palace next to St Peter’s Square.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he expected a conclave of cardinals to be held in March within 15 or 20 days of the resignation and a new pope elected before Easter Sunday on March 31.
It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope—to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.
Several papal contenders
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner—the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Benedict, an academic theologian who has written numerous books including a trilogy on the life of Jesus Christ that he completed last Christmas, will retire to a monastery within the Vatican walls.
“In order to govern the ship of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me,” the pope said.
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours (1900 GMT), the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked,” he said.
Tributes poured in for Benedict from around the world including his native Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had the “greatest respect” for his decision, and hailed him as “one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time.”
French President Francois Hollande said the pope’s decision was “eminently respectable.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the pope had worked “tirelessly” to boost ties with Britain.
Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was the Catholic Church’s doctrinal enforcer for many years and earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.”
He was elected in 2005 at a time when the Vatican was being rocked by multiple scandals over child abuse committed by priests.
The guiding principle of his papacy has been to reinvigorate the Catholic faith, particularly among young people and in countries with rising levels of secularism like Europe and North America.
Benedict has championed Christianity’s European roots and showed his conservatism by repeatedly stressing family values and fiercely opposing abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.
Pope Benedict, who has looked increasingly weary in recent months and often has to use a mobile platform to move around St Peter’s basilica during Church services, had hinted in a book of interviews in 2010 that he might resign if he felt he was no longer able to carry out his duties.
The scandal over confidential memos leaked from the Vatican by the pope’s once loyal butler last year was a particularly hard blow for the pope.
‘Caught by surprise’
“The pope caught us a bit by surprise,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a hastily arranged press conference.
Lombardi stressed that the pope’s decision was his own and was “well thought out” and that “there is no illness that has contributed to it.”
In recent years, however, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. He now goes to and from the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica on a moving platform, to spare him the long walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane.
His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, said doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.
“His age is weighing on him,” Ratzinger told the DPA news agency. “At this age my brother wants more rest.”
Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope—the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide—requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he told the cardinals.
“In order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary—strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said.
Allowed to resign
Popes are allowed to resign; Church law specifies only that the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested.” But only a handful have done it.
The only other pope to resign because he felt unable to fulfil his duties was Celestine V in 1294, a hermit who stepped down after just a few months in office saying he yearned for a simpler life and was not physically capable for the office.
In 1415, Gregory XII resigned in a bid to end the “Western Schism,” when two rival claimants declared themselves pope in Pisa and Avignon and threatened to tear apart Roman Catholicism.
Other popes have stepped down for a variety of reasons in the papacy’s mediaeval history.
When Benedict was elected at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years. At the time, he has already been planning to retire as the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria.
On Monday, Benedict said he would serve the church for the remainder of his days “through a life dedicated to prayer.” The Vatican said immediately after his resignation, Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then would live in a cloistered monastery.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope’s conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn’t need a pope from a “superpower.”
Given half of the world’s Catholics live in the global south, there will once again be arguments for a pope to come from the developing world.
Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, has impressed many Vatican watchers, but at 56 and having only been named a cardinal last year, he is considered too young.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is one of the highest-ranking African cardinals at the Vatican, currently heading the Vatican’s office for justice and peace, but he’s something of a wild card.
All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.
The pontiff had been due to attend World Youth Day in July in Rio de Janeiro; by then his successor will have been named and will presumably make the trip.
Originally posted at 07:04 pm |Monday, February 11, 2013