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Pope Benedict XVI Is Resigning

Above: Pope Benedict XVI, on Saturday at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world's 1 billion Catholics.

Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithfuls as he leaves St. Peter's Basilica at the end of the Christmas night mass on December 24, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Text Of Pope Announcement

"Dear Brothers,

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."

The 85-year-old pope announced the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators, even though Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.

Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."

Indeed, the move allows the Vatican to hold a conclave before Easter to elect a new pope, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.

It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope — to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.

There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, but in recent years, the pope has slowed down significantly, 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.

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

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

Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — requires "both strength of mind and body."

"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," he told the cardinals.

"In order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he said.

Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be "freely made and properly manifested." But only a handful have done it.

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

When Benedict was elected at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years. At the time, he has already been planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.

On Monday, Benedict said he would serve the church for the remainder of his days "through a life dedicated to prayer." The Vatican said immediately after his resignation, Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then would live in a cloistered monastery.

Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.

Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope's conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn't need a pope from a "superpower."

Given half of the world's Catholics live in the global south, there will once again be arguments for a pope to come from the developing world.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, has impressed many Vatican watchers, but at 56 and having only been named a cardinal last year, he is considered too young.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is one of the highest-ranking African cardinals at the Vatican, currently heading the Vatican's office for justice and peace, but he's something of a wild card.

All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.

The pontiff had been due to attend World Youth Day in July in Rio de Janeiro; by then his successor will have been named and will presumably make the trip.

Benedict himself raised the possibility of resigning if he were simply too old or sick to continue on, when he was interviewed in 2010 for the book "Light of the World."

"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.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had an intimate view as Pope John Paul II, with whom he had worked closely for nearly a quarter-century, suffered through the debilitating end of his papacy.

The announcement took the Vatican — and the rest of the world — by surprise.

Several cardinals on Monday didn't even understand what Benedict had said during the consistory, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman said. Others who did were stunned.

"All the cardinals remained shocked and were looking at each other," said Monsignor Oscar Sanchez of Mexico who was in the room when Benedict made his announcement.

Benedict was born April 16, 1927 in Marktl Am Inn, in Bavaria, but his father, a policeman, moved frequently and the family left when he was 2.

In his memoirs, Benedict dealt what could have been a source of controversy had it been kept secret — that he was enlisted in the Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He said he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood. Two years later he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper. He deserted the German army in April 1945, the waning days of the war.

He called it prophetic that a German followed a Polish pope — with both men coming from such different sides of World War II.

Benedict was ordained, along with his brother, in 1951. After spending several years teaching theology in Germany, he was appointed bishop of Munich in 1977 and elevated to cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI.

John Paul named him leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981 and he took up his post a year later. Following John Paul's death in 2005, he was elected pope April 19 in one of the fastest conclaves in history, just about 24 hours after the voting began.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Tomasz'

Tomasz | February 11, 2013 at 7:02 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

yeah right, in MY opinion this is medieval hypocrisy.
Ratzinger, Cur etiam hic es?!.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | February 11, 2013 at 7:23 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

What a quitter. Truly an embarrassment to humanity, this so-called pope. He really let everyone down, but most grievously, he let the God down. Sure hope the God makes him go to the Hell, at least for a little while. Shameful!

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | February 11, 2013 at 9:05 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

WWJD? Live in gold palaces!

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Avatar for user 'sdman'

sdman | February 11, 2013 at 11:31 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

IIk, I think every human being has let his/her GOD down and Pope is no exception.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | February 11, 2013 at 11:34 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Tell me about it. There's just no pleasing that God, is there?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 11, 2013 at 11:37 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

ILK Is being toungue-in-cheek. He is an athiest.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | February 11, 2013 at noon ― 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm a libra, too.

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Avatar for user 'Tomasz'

Tomasz | February 11, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Logic is GOLDEN, or shall I say "sacred" for the sensitive ones.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | February 11, 2013 at 1:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

I thought it was like the mafia, no resignations accepted.

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Avatar for user 'sdman'

sdman | February 11, 2013 at 7:15 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Has anybody heard from Janus6? Seems he has been awfully quiet. Maybe he is at Applebees.

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | February 12, 2013 at 7:47 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

I wonder how long it will be before the Catholic church enters the modern world. Never?

Thank God for all the enlightened churches giving honest, thoughtful Christians a chance to practice our faith with no reservations.

Will these enlightened churches ever become a majority within the faith? Maybe.

In the meantime, I wish the media would stop putting fundamentalist stuck in the middle ages on TV as the face of Christianity. Put Desmond Tutu on as the voice of Christianity, instead.

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | February 12, 2013 at 10:05 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Because the invisible men you worship are complete opposites...

Faith is the bastion of the weak-minded. There is more than enough reality to face, yet the 'faithful' choose to believe a self-fulfilling prophecy with no observable truth or evidence to substantiate said belief.

Then religion is used as a fallback for horrible things. Whether it's Sharia law, or starting religious wars, or Manifest Destiny, religious manipulation and justification was a key component in advancing the causes.

People claim religion is a tool for good, yet there is no good that can not be equally accomplished without religion. It doesn't take a God for us to love and respect our parents, or to not lie/steal/kill.

Religion is just how people coped with the mysteries of the universe before we had science. It's sad how many people refuse to let go of their fairy tale even after the introduction of science.

I leave you with a famous Bible verse:

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."

So all you Christian women out there..... God commands you to shut up and know your place.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | February 12, 2013 at 10:43 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

"Faith is the bastion of the weak-minded."

I really disagree, and furthermore, this is a very condescending statement. I know plenty of intelligent, strong, accomplished individuals who happen to believe in the God and I'm sure you do too. They just happen to believe in something that is irrational. But that doesn't mean their minds are "weak."

Besides, faith isn't something someone simply decides to believe in or not. No one of faith approaches it logically. It's not a binary decision, like "oh, I guess I'll either believe in god or not." We're born into a culture of religion, with talk of god all around us and all throughout our history. The way I see it, that immersion into a religious culture from a very young age explains why so many people claim to believe in god -- not because they actually do, but because they're obligated socially, by psychological pressure to not offend their family or disappoint elders of the church in which they've been assimilated since they were little. They fear the consequences of rejecting the concept.

So it's not that they're weak-minded. They're just scared.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 12, 2013 at 3:51 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

"So it's not that they're weak-minded. They're just scared." - Ilk

Good point. I wonder how many people use fear of god as cover for fear of social rejection.

It is clear why people lose faith, but converting to another is an interesting decision making process. Is proselytizing effective?

Catholics have historically been very effective at converting whole populations. Did their targets convert because they suddenly saw their faith was false? Or was it through bribery with food and money or threats of imprisonment and death?

In modern times, Catholics have switched from conversion to simple population growth relying on their steadfast opposition to birth control to expand internally.

Without massive third world population growth, I doubt the Catholic faith would last into the next Century.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 12, 2013 at 11:23 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

REGULAR CHRISTIAN, the Protestant fundamentalists are a different issue, but I'm not sure what you mean by the Roman Catholic Church "entering the modern world."

Last time I checked the Catholic bishops/Holy See opposed the death penalty (STILL ALIVE AND WELL IN LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CALIFORNIA thanks to the last election). They/it have opposed the USA wars in Afghanistan AND IRAQ. They/it has favored a humane approach to undocumented immigration (to the US). All "liberal" positions.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 12, 2013 at 11:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

ANON 11, don't be so naive. A LOT of things are "fallbacks" for horrible things. What pray tell was the Cold War all about? Coup d'etats and wars to "save the free world for Democracy"??? Do you really believe that one??? Or what about today, the "new" enemy replacing the evil "commies," Islamic militancy. Now we make war, assasinate people, and launch drone strkes to ward off the Mooslim hordes!!! If ANYTHING is a fall back for horrible things, it is our bull**** about fighting overseas (isn't it ALWAYS overseas) to keep "America free."

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 12, 2013 at 11:30 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

How malthusian of you, CA Off. lol

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | February 13, 2013 at 7:20 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

MA, is it possible you are confusing modernity with your personal political views?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 13, 2013 at 2:51 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

MA,

What do you have against Malthus? You frequently attempt use his name as an insult, but it is usually received as a compliment.

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Avatar for user 'Crolley40'

Crolley40 | February 14, 2013 at 8:45 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Thanks for informing me the number of Catholics are meger one million in CA. And barely half of Sunday Mass in Spanish in S.D? Imagine what that number should be like in some other areas as Watsonville, Modesto or Fresno! Must be overwhelmingly more than that!

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