Benedict's Resignation Shocks World

The announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came as a shock around the world. Saying he no longer had the strength to exercise ministry over the universal church, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he would be resigning at the end of the month. “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,” the pope told cardinals gathered for an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints.

Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, will be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.


He told the cardinals, “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 bark of St. 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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

The pope has had increasingly trouble walking in the past year, often using a cane and always being assisted getting up and down steps. The Vatican has never released medical information, however, that would make it appear the pope suffers from anything other than joint pain connected to his age.

In a statement released on Feb. 11, New York Cardinal and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Timothy Dolan said, “The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did. His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church. We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter.

“Though 78 when he elected pope in 2005, he set out to meet his people – and they were of all faiths – all over the world,” Cardinal Dolan said. “He visited the religiously threatened – Jews, Muslims and Christians in the war-torn Middle East, the desperately poor in Africa, and the world’s youth gathered to meet him in Australia, Germany, Spain and Brazil.”

Cardinal Keith O'Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, said he was "shocked and saddened" by the news. "I know that his decision will have been considered most carefully and that it has come after much prayer and reflection," Cardinal O'Brien said. He offered prayers from the Scottish church for Pope Benedict "at this time of deterioration in his health as he recognizes his incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to him."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the pope's announcement "has shocked and surprised everyone."

"Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognize it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action," Archbishop Nichols said.

The option of a pope to resign is explicitly written into the Code of Canon Law. It says a pope may step down, but stipulates that the decision must be made freely and “duly manifested.”

Fulfilling the canonical requirement, Pope Benedict solemnly declared to the cardinals, “Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. 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, the See of Rome, the See of St. Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new supreme pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

It is up to the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to make preparations for a conclave to elect a new pope. 

Before ending his remarks, Pope Benedict told the cardinals, “I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the holy church to the care of our supreme pastor, our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the cardinal fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new supreme pontiff.”

The pope made no mention of his future plans, other than to say, “I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

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Tim O'Leary
5 years 11 months ago
What a humble holy man! I will miss his wisdom and strong influence on the world. But, it is also exciting to live in a time such as this, to see who the Holy Spirit will choose through the Cardinals. Maybe, we will get a pope from Africa, someone to call the selfish self-absorbed (sex-absorbed?) westerners back to faithfulness and holiness?
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 11 months ago
@Tim - It IS an exciting time. Imagine - a photo of the new Pontiff and his LIVING predecessor together. Historic!
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 11 months ago
I'm actually a little surprised there isn't more activity on these threads. The election of a new Pontiff is of course a huge deal for our Church, but the fact it will come on the heals of a resignation and not a death is historical. What are your thoughts, brothers and sisters??? I think I am most struck by, as I mentioned before, the long deterioration of John Paul II, compared to Benedict deciding to not continue while appearing to be in comparatively good health. Reading about the canon law requirement that a pontiff wishing to resign be of sound mind, I can't help but wonder if John Paul II was ABLE to resign, at least in canonical terms; what kind of turmoil did his mental and physical deterioration cause behind the scenes? If there was turmoil and infighting, Benedict was certainly smack dab in the middle of it; turmoil he likely does not want occuring on his account. Just thinking out lout, praying, wondering. This news has greatly surprised me.
Anne Chapman
5 years 11 months ago
To Thomas - Why is there so little activity on these threads? Maybe because not many really care a whole lot about arcane Roman ritual and canon law? I left the church after years of clinging by my fingernails through John Paul II's and then Benedict's regimes. I finally gave up. I tuned out from Rome pretty much, and I suspect a lot of others have too, even those still in the pews. It was clear that Rome didn't know much about their world, is pretty much an ecclesiastical ivory tower of little concern to "real" people living "real" lives in the "real" world,. Rome became irrelevant even to most of the Catholics still in the pews with the exception of some extremely conservative fans who cheered every time he silenced another "dissenting" theologian or excommunicated someone whose big crime was supporting women's ordination while promoting men who protected child molesters. Who really cares very deeply about a distant figurehead who has little to do with them and really doesn't share many of their real world concerns and values (values like the need to protect kids from sexual abuse and the need to hold bishops accountable when they were more concerned about "protecting" an institution) ? I don't know if this resignation will be anything more than a transitory curiousity to most - a bit of history since it's the first papal resignation in hundreds of years. The one thing I will say for Benedict though - at least he has enough sense to know that being dragged around and propped up in chairs for public appearances when the sensible and kind thing for the Roman handlers to do would be to let the old and sick rest comfortably somewhere is an improvement over what happened during his predecessor's last years. This pope has never shown much common sense, but at least in this, he seems to have his wits about him and realizes that a slow, public, and undignified public decline is not really desirable. He may have left me and millions of other Catholics "cold" as far as the church goes, but at least he is giving a decent example of aging with dignity.
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 11 months ago
@Anne, thank you for your thoughts. I was wondering in more of an academic sense - this is a Catholic publication and Benedict is the earthly head of this Church. The fact that he's stepping down seems, to me, to be worthy of some discussion.
Anne Chapman
5 years 11 months ago
It's not just here. I was participating in a thread at dotCommonweal that is "old" (you have to scroll down the page quite a bit to find it) and it was up to 130 posts today until 131 stopped it with the report of the resignation. Yet the stories of the resignation at dotCommonweal also have relatively few posts, although more than here. I still read America every day and have noticed a sharp drop-off of activity since they changed their format, so maybe that has something to do with it. But NCR also changed theirs in the last few months and it is still pretty active. At NCR, where some stories have generated 400+ comments at times, there are six stories "above the fold" and another dozen stories linked on the "newsfeed" (some have already "disappeared" from the home page because there were so many stories from their bloggers). The lead story by John Allen has more than 100 comments, and one about Dolan's reaction has 50+. Most of the others have a few but not many. So, at least at NCR there seems to be some reaction, but still not as much as you might expect. I stand by what I said - it may be that not a lot of people really care enough in either the academic sense OR the personal sense to get into a discussion about it.
Michael Barberi
5 years 11 months ago
A remarkable and courageous act by Pope Benedict XVI. Let us all pray that a new pope will bring solidarity to a divided church (clergy, theologians/religious and general laity) plagued by the sex abuse scandal and profound disagreements. I wish Pope Benedict XVI God's peace and joy and renewed strength to continue to serve the Church in the future.
duncan yun
5 years 11 months ago

After the 02/28, I reckoned that Cardinal Ratzinger (formerly known as Pope Benedict XVI) will kiss the new papal ring ? This is the ultimate act of humility.


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