Pope Benedict XVI resigning Feb. 28

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Cites age, health reasons, conclave expected in March

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Mons. Franco Comaldo, left, a pope aide, looks at Pope Benedict XVI as he reads a document in Latin where he announces his resignation, during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, at the Vatican, Monday. Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28 - the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.


He 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.

“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.

“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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

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.

Benedict called his choice “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.” The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed.

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.

When Benedict was elected pope at age 78 — already the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years — he had been already 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.

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.”

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.

Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested.” Only a handful have done so, however and there’s good reason why it hasn’t become commonplace: Might the existence of two popes — even when one has stepped down — lead to divisions and instability in the church? Might a new resignation precedent lead to pressures on future popes to quit at the slightest hint of infirmity?

Benedict himself raised the possibility of resigning if he were simply too old or sick to continue on in 2010, when he was interviewed 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. ——— Daniela Petroff contributed from Vatican City.

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Recent comments

  • alfred nobel
    February 11, 2013 - 17:23

    I predict that German federal police have uncovered Joey Ratzinger's real Nazi file and are about to indict him. It doesn't help that his butler has spilled the goods on his pedophilia either.

  • The Facilitator
    February 11, 2013 - 09:38

    As a non-Roman Catholic I want to wish Pope Benedict XVI all the best in his retirement and hope that the Cardinals elect a new Pope worthy of the position.

  • hardihar
    February 11, 2013 - 09:21

    Prepare for Peter the Roman (Petrus Romanus) as the next and last pope.

  • Resigning
    February 11, 2013 - 09:08

    I hope he doesn't pull an Olive! Resign, come back, resign, come back, partially resign, support 2 different people for personal reasons, destroy the party

  • Sylvia
    February 11, 2013 - 07:54

    If there has to be a pope, how about bringing in somebody young with new fresh ideas who would push for women to be ordained, for priests to marry, to stop prejudice against gays, to mind their own business about birth control. Otherwise, if a new pope can't change things then what's the point of changing popes.

    • It doesn't work that way
      February 11, 2013 - 08:31

      They are not 'changing popes' for the sake of change. The pope is resigning due to ill health...read the article.

    • Sylvia
      February 11, 2013 - 10:06

      Yes, I did read the article and I understand why the pope is resigning. I stand by what I wrote, that changes need to be made and if a young pope with new fresh ideas isn't elected, nothing is going to change.

    • Captain Canuck
      February 11, 2013 - 11:04

      Well, SYLVIA and IS THIS REALLY NEWS, if you don't like it, you don't have to join the club. Christianity has about a thousand breakoff's from the original Christian religion. Pick any Protestant religion and join them. The rules of the Catholic Church is firm - and no where does it mistreat gays. They preach tolerance and understanding of the gay person... it's just considered wrong like so many other things. Like I said, join another club.

    • Jan
      February 11, 2013 - 11:22

      Sylvia- Amen to that. Other archaic rules have been dropped, so why can't a new system of beliefs be ushered in by a new pope? If this wasn't possible, men would still be punished for shaving their beards or wearing clothes of two different materials. Evolve or perish!

      February 11, 2013 - 15:34

      To Captain Canuck: The 'original' Christian Church was the Greek Orthodox Church. The Latin Church, highjacked by the crumbling Roman Empire as a power grab, got to write our Western 'history books' and, ignoring the facts, claimed that they are the 'one true and original church'. This Roman Church also claims 'tradition' justifies a historically and culturally skewed theology - like discrimination against women and priests not marrying. Amen to what Sylvie says even though that is probably a lost cause. Unfortunately, RCs are brought up to believe their church is the only show in town. I am intrigued to know what has really precipitated this Pope's resignation....we may never know. Health reasons??? John Paul II wasn't exactly the picture of health in his final years.

    • Captain Canuck
      February 11, 2013 - 17:03

      To PLEASE CLARIFY. OK. If we're going to call Easter Orthodox and Roman Catholic different religions then add the Russian Orthodox and whatever exists in Ethiopia etc too. Since we're going this route, the Russion Orthodox was the first scism from the new belief in Judaism that the Messiah is among us. Roman Catholics went back to these roots where Pegans were given The Good News since because the scribe/pharisee cowards who bowed and scraped to the Caesar were too chicken to accept Jesus as Christ. Since the schism which instituted the 'retro' Roman Catholic era was about 1000 to 1200 AD, and there have been popes going back to 33 or so AD, and the Greek Orthodox has no pope that makes the Roman Catholic the original hold-out not a branch.

  • Is this really news
    February 11, 2013 - 07:25

    Hard to believe in this day and age people still take the pope or this church seriously. After all the abuse scandals and other ways they have ruined or interfered for the worse in the lives of millions of people.

    • Just me
      February 11, 2013 - 11:22

      To Is this really news? What about all the scandels in sports, schools, business, etc? Shouldn't these be eliminated also? Abuse is abuse whereever t happens.

    • Neil
      February 11, 2013 - 11:46

      Hard to believe people take any form of Christianity or any other religion this seriously. The faster the world truly separates Government and State the better off humanity will be.