“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” – Pope Benedict XVI
On Monday February 11, 2013, during a routine morning meeting of Cardinals in the Vatican Pope Benedict XVI dropped a bombshell by announcing his resignation in Latin thus becoming the first pontiff to step down after 600 years. Even his close associates had no advance knowledge about his decision to resign.
Pope Benedict XVI, formerly German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy watchdog had plans to retire and spend his final years in his native Bavaria.
In recent years, the Pope has visibly slowed down. He reduced foreign travel and placed a limit on his audiences. Now, a moving platform carries him to and from the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, and on some occasions, he uses a cane.
As early as 2010, the Pope began to look tired and worn out. He lost weight and did not seem fully engaged when visiting bishops briefed him on their dioceses. He then had made it clear that he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job. However, the Cardinals were surprised and remained shocked when the Pope said that he could not carry on as “both strength of mind and body are necessary – strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me.” He added that he would resign effective 8 p.m. local time on February 28, 2013.
The Vatican declared that no particular medical problem prompted the Pope to make the decision and stressed that he remains fully lucid and made the decision himself.
On April 19, 2005, at age 78, he was the oldest Pope elected in nearly 300 years. It was a time when anger at clerical child-sex-abuse shook the faith of many Catholics in Europe, North America, and many other countries of the world. In 2008, he expressed the abuse as “shame” and met the victims. Nevertheless, he endured criticism for not recognizing the extent of the issue during his 24-year vocation as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the primary doctrinal body of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church with its 1.2 billion followers is now scurrying to replace its leader by Easter.
The next Pope, whoever it be, will take the reins of a church in turmoil because Pope Benedict steps down from the supreme office leaving behind a Church struggling to find its place in an increasingly secular world where many believe that they do not need a God in their lives. The child sex abuse scandals involving priests have prompted thousands of Catholics to forsake the church. Rival Protestant churches, particularly the evangelical Pentecostal groups pose new competition to the Catholic Church in the developing nations. Confrontation from radical anti-Christian groups has surfaced in many Islamic countries. Though Pope Benedict distanced himself from the intrigues of the Curia, in 2012 it caught up with him in the form of “Vatileaks” scandal in which his once loyal butler Paolo Gabriele leaked to the press hundreds of confidential papal memos that revealed tensions prevailing in the Vatican.
Sources in the Vatican said that Pope Benedict would live in an uncharted territory inside the Vatican, but free to go in and out.
After the election of the new Pope how would one address the present Holy Father? Would it be “Pope Emeritus”?
The letter of resignation of Pope Benedict xvi
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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
Lightning strikes St Peter’s Basilica as Pope resigns
- Pope Benedict XVI resigns due to age and declining health (guardian.co.uk)
- Pope resigns in bombshell announcement, sending troubled church scrambling to replace him (foxnews.com)
- Pope leaves Church in crisis (deccanchronicle.com)