Pope Benedict XVI is to stand down as leader of the Catholicchurch, he announced yesterday. In a decision that has shocked even his closest aides, the 85-year-old Pontiff said his health was ‘no longer adequate to continue in office due to his advanced age’. He announced his resignation during a meeting of Vatican cardinals last morning, emphasising that leading more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide requires ‘both strength of mind and body’.
The Pope said, “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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.”
He added, “However, in 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 barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths 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.”
Benedict, who was known as ‘God’s rottweiler’ said he was making the decision in ‘full freedom’ but was ‘fully aware of the gravity of this gesture’. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he would officially retire on February 28. “It’s taken us a bit by surprise. We’ve had to organise ourselves very quickly. We’ve had no warning of what the Pope was about to announce. The declaration is crystal clear and we need to go through it word by word. The Pope says that he looked in a personal way and had a deep moment of reflection to consider the mission that he had received from God.” The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. He did so to end a civil war within the church.
HOW THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ELECTS A POPE
Roman Catholic cardinals seeking a successor to Pope Benedict XVI will hold a conclave to elect a new pontiff. Only cardinals are eligible to take part in the conclave, which will continue until a successor is chosen. The cardinals will meet in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and hold two voting rounds a day until they choose a new pope with a two-thirds majority. They had to sleep in makeshift cells and share minimal sanitary facilities. But new regulations issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996 allow them to live in a new hotel built on Vatican grounds behind St. Peter’s Basilica and even take walks in the tiny state’s peaceful gardens between their voting rounds. Another reform lets the cardinals opt for a simple majority vote if they have not succeeded in electing a pope after about two weeks of balloting. When the cardinals are in agreement, the chosen one will say ‘Accepto,’ a puff of white smoke, above, will emerge from the chimney, bells will toll and a cardinal will appear at the central window of St Peter’s Basilica to declare ‘Habemus papam’ - ‘We have a pope’.
Precedents for papal resignations
While 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 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: Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
A papacy marred by controversies
>> Hitler Youth
Born in Bavaria, Germany, into a family of farmers, the Pope's time in the Hitler Youth, which he joined at the age of 14, was swiftly highlighted by the media after his appointment. He was drafted in an anti-aircraft unit in Munich as he was studying in Traunstein seminary, but he deserted towards the end of the war.
>> Child Sex Abuse Scandal
In 2005, when Pope Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II, the church was engulfed in the priest child sex abuse scandal and damaging claims that local dioceses were complicit in their cover-up. Shortly before his election in 2005, he spoke out about the scandal at Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum, saying, “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!”
The VatiLeaks scandal involved a former papal butler, who leaked hundreds of Catholic documents which attempted to prove corruption, power struggles and incompetence at the highest levels.
>> Relationship with Jews
In 2008, the Pope angered the Jewish community by promoting a new version of the Good Friday prayer for the
Jews ‘to be delivered from darkness’.
The Queen’s a year older than The Pope. Can’t see her ever resigning because she's tired
— Piers Morgan
If the pope himself, after thorough reflection, has come to the conclusion that he doesn't have the strength anymore to carry out his duties, then this has my utmost respect
— Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
I send my best wishes to Pope Benedict following his announcement today. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See.
— David cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister