After almost 8 years in office, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) has stunned the world with the announcement today that he is resigning his office and will step down as Pope on February 28, a little over 2 weeks from today. Citing his age and health, Pope Benedict is the first Pope to resign from office since 1415 … which makes his announcement all the more shocking. For the past 600 years, Popes have died in office but — for some reason — Pope Benedict maintains that he does not have the ability to carry on as the leader of the Catholic Church … so he quit. Click below to read the full text of Pope Benedict‘s resignation announcement … whether or not you are a religious person at all, you have to admit that this development is quite newsworthy.
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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 with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. 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 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint 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 Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, 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. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
Here is a bit of context regarding Benedict‘s short tenure as Pope and what his resignation may mean to the Catholic church, from The New York Times:
Citing advanced years and infirmity, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world on Monday by saying that he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office, the first pope to do so in six centuries … A profoundly conservative figure whose papacy was overshadowed by clerical abuse scandals, Benedict, 85, was elected by fellow cardinals in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the pope would continue to carry out his duties until Feb. 28 and that a successor could be elected by Easter, which falls on March 31. But, he added, the timing for an election of a new pope is “not an announcement, it’s a hypothesis.” While there had been questions about Benedict’s health, the timing of his announcement sent shock waves around the world, even though he had in the past endorsed the notion that an incapacitated pope could resign. “The pope took us by surprise,” said Father Lombardi, who explained that many cardinals were in Rome on Monday for a ceremony at the Vatican and heard the pope’s address. Italy’s prime minister, Mario Monti, said he was “very shaken by the unexpected news” … When he took office, Pope Benedict’s well known stands included the assertion that Catholicism is “true” and other religions are “deficient”; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam. He had also strongly opposed homosexuality, the ordination of female priests and stem cell research … Benedict’s tenure was caught up in growing sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church that crept ever closer to the Vatican itself. In 2010, as outrage built over clerical abuses, some secular and liberal Catholic voices called for his resignation, their demands fueled by reports that laid part of the blame at his doorstep, citing his response both as a bishop long ago in Germany and as a cardinal heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles such cases. In one disclosure, news emerged that in 1985, when Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger, he signed a letter putting off efforts to defrock a convicted child-molesting priest. He cited the priest’s relative youth but also the good of the church.
Considering the insane amount of power and influence held by any Pope (moreso than any other leader of any kind in the world), it boggles the mind that Pope Benedict may be stepping down to avoid some kind of scandal or revelation, as some believe is the true reason for his resignation. That said, it is very strange that for the past 600 years, no Pope has EVER stepped down from office and yet today, we have a Pope who quits … particularly in light of the “growing sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church that crept ever closer to the Vatican itself.” Personally, as a non-Catholic, this news doesn’t really effect me. I must admit that I have much distrust for the leadership of the Catholic church mainly for the way that it has covered up child abuse crimes for decades, centuries most likely. I suppose it’s too much to hope for that the next Pope will be a more progressive, most accepting leader. It seems unlikely but wouldn’t it be amazing to have as the head of the Catholic church, as “God’s representative on Earth”, a person who is accepting of all of God’s children, more willing to work with rather than against other religions, someone willing to expose and punish criminals within the church and someone who actually advocates the unfailing generosity, charity and universal love that Jesus Christ exhibited (if you believe in that sort of thing)? I suppose it’s far too much to hope for but … if there’s ever something to pray for, maybe it is time to pray for a new kind of Pope?