Pope Benedict XVI took the world by surprise yesterday morning in Rome when he announced that he would be resigning at the end of this month.
Speaking in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican,
Pope Benedict said that he had “come to the certainty” that his
strengths “are no longer suited” to fulfilling the ministry of Pope.
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 said.
today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions
of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark 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 recognise my incapacity to
adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
In becoming the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, Benedict has taken even his closest advisors by surprise.
a news briefing, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi
indicated that almost no one knew of the Pope’s intentions.He said it
was his understanding the current dean of the College of Cardinals,
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was informed of the Pope’s decision only very
shortly before the announcement.
Benedict will remain as Pope
until 8.00pm on February 28th. Until that time, he retains all his
spiritual and temporal authority.
At that point, there begins a
period of interregnum or sede vacante (empty chair), when the Church
will essentially be administered by the “Camerlengo” or Chamberlain, the
current Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who will summon
the 120 Cardinals worldwide to Rome for a conclave to elect the next
Fr Lombardi indicated that, if this election process
follows along the lines of previous ones, then the new Pope should be
elected “within the space of a month” - in other words, before the end
of March. Benedict will take no part in that conclave, but rather will
retire to the Pope’s summer residence of Castelgandolfo prior to taking
up residence in a closed order monastery within the grounds of the
if yesterdays announcement came as a complete surprise, attentive
observers might have intuited something from remarks made by the Pope in
his interview-book with German journalist Peter Seewald, three years
In that book, Benedict explained: "When the Pope comes to
the awareness that he psychically, physically and spiritually cannot
manage his office any longer, then he has the right, indeed is
understood to be duty bound to step down.”
Benedict added the
Pope should not resign because of difficulties or dangers but rather
could only consider resignation at a moment of relative calm for the
With hindsight, the Pope may have given another
indication of his intention to resign when he called a second consistory
for the appointment of new Cardinals last October.
consistories normally occur once every three or four years.
Two in a
single year is most unusual and it may be that Benedict wanted to name
new Cardinals to “top up” the number of elector Cardinals - those under
80 years of age - in readiness for an imminent Conclave.
Catholic Church may now find itself at a crossroads with regard to the
election of a successor to Benedict. Many feel the time has come for a
less conservative, non-European Pope, perhaps a Latin American.
contrast, there is a strong conservative lobby within the Curia which
would dearly like to see an Italian back on the seat of Peter. By the
end of March, it shall become know which faction has prevailed.
The 85-year-old, Joseph Ratzinger, became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II.
he was elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was known by such critical
epithets as "God's rottweiler" because of his stern stand on theological
issues. He was the oldest man to be named pope since Clement XII, who
was also 78 when he was elected in 1730. He was the first German pope
since Victor II (1055-1057).
His election was one of the fastest
in many years: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots on one
day, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one
Benedict XVI was elected after balloting of cardinals over two
Born in Bavaria on April 16th, 1927, was a liberal
theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council but became a
conservative after the 1968 student movement prompted him to defend the
faith against secularism.
He was archbishop of Munich before
taking over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981 as
the Roman Catholic Church's chief ideologue. In that position, he has
disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts
by liberals for reforms.
While conservatives cheered him for
trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity, his critics accused
him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and
hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.