February 11, 2013

Pope's resignation leaves troubled church scrambling

The Associated Press

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In this Nov. 26, 2011, photo, Pope Benedict XVI leaves Paul VI hall after attending a concert at the Vatican.

AP

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Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, in this April 19, 2005, photo.

AP

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Precedents for papal resignations

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down on Feb. 28. While such papal resignations are extremely rare, there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.

Marcellinus: This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor's order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045.

Celestine V: Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after five months as pope in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his tomb in the central Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009.

Gregory XII: The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.

There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation as when Benedict was elected after the death of John Paul. As in recent elections, some push is expected for the election of a Third World pope, with several names emerging from Asia, Africa and Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world's Catholics.

The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, saying he remains fully lucid and took his decision independently.

"Any interference or intervention is alien to his style," Lombardi said.

The pope has clearly slowed down significantly in recent years, 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.

As early as 2010, Benedict began to look worn out: He had lost weight and didn't seem fully engaged when visiting bishops briefed him on their dioceses. But as tired as he often seemed, he would also bounce back, enduring searing heat in Benin to bless a child and gamely hanging on when a freak storm forced him to cut short a speech during a youth festival in Madrid in 2011.

His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, said doctors recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.

"His age is weighing on him," Ratzinger told the dpa news agency in Germany. "At this age, my brother wants more rest."

"He has looked very, very run down," agreed U.S. Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, who was present for Monday's announcement, speaking to Sirius XM's "The Catholic Channel.

Benedict emphasized that to carry out the duties of being pope, "both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me."

"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 the demands of being the pope, he told the cardinals.

In a way, it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Benedict himself raised the possibility of resigning if he were too old or sick to continue.

"If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign," Benedict said in the 2010 book "Light of the World."

But he stressed that resignation was not an option to escape a particular burden, such as the sex abuse scandal.

"When the danger is great, one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation," he said.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said Benedict decided to resign after his March 2012 trip to Mexico and Cuba, an exhausting but exhilarating visit where he met with fellow-octogenarian Fidel Castro and was treated to a raucous and warm welcome.

Although popes are allowed to resign, only a handful has done it — and none for a very long time.

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.

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In this June 16, 2010, photo, Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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