Pope Benedict XVI to Resign

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

I was a little surprised to learn that the Pope is planning to resign at the end of the month. Here are some details from the Wall Street Journal.

VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he planned to step down at the end of this month because of his deteriorating physical strength, a move that hasn’t happened in the Roman Catholic Church in centuries and that is likely to pave the way for a new pontiff by Easter.

In a speech in Latin to cardinals, the 85-year-old German pontiff, who has been in office since April 2005, said that leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a job that required strength of both mind and body. But the pope said his strength had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

A papal spokesman added during a briefing with reporters that Pope Benedict had been thinking about the move for some time, saying it wasn’t due to an illness. Father Lombardi, the spokesman, said the pope would retire to a life of prayer and writing. He also said the pontiff had “no fear” of any potential schism in the church as a consequence of the pope’s resignation.

The resignation, which the Vatican said would take place as of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, will give way to a conclave, a gathering of cardinals who will elect the new pope. Normally, after a pope dies, there is a nine-day mourning period before the selection his successor. This time, the process can begin right away, said Greg Burke, the Vatican’s media adviser. “This means we’ll have a new pope by Easter,” he added. The holiday falls on March 31 this year.

That’s too bad, though I thought he was too old for the job when he was first selected to be pope. Even though I am no longer Catholic, I always rather like Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger, if only because the liberals and the secularists hated him.  I hope the next pope is a younger, more dynamic man who is up to defending the faith in an increasingly hostile world.

I didn’t know that a pope was allowed to resign and it certainly isn’t common. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in order to end the Great Schism in which two or more men claimed to be the legitimate pope. From 1378 until 1414, there were rival popes at Rome and Avignon, with eventually a third pope at Pisa. All of Europe was divided between allegiance to one or the other pope until the issue was finally resolved by the Council of Constance, after which all of the popes were made to resign in favor of a new pope, Martin V who became pope in 1417.

That was a completely different situation, of course, and I don’t imagine there will be any trouble of that sort today. In fact, I would imagine that by resigning, Benedict will have more influence in the selection of his successor than he otherwise might have had.

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