For the first time in almost 600 years a sitting Pope has resigned, leaving the leadership of the Catholic Church, one of the world’s richest and most powerful organizations–religious or secular–in transition.
Citing his failing health, Pope Benedict XVI, announced to Cardinals that he was no longer able to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and would step down on Feb. 28.
Benedict, a German, was, at 78, the oldest Pope ever installed as the leader of Catholic Church. Now 85, and in frail health, Benedict said in a statement this morning that to lead the church, “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.”
(full text below).
Few positions on Earth are as powerful and influential as leadership of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict ranked 5th this year on our annual list of the World’s Most Powerful people trailing only US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
At the National Catholic Register, Thomas Reece explains that while the move is certainly legal (though rare–only 10 Popes have ever resigned in the history of the Church) “Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable,” writes Reece. “As Paul VI said, paternity cannot be resigned. In addition, Paul feared setting a precedent that would encourage factions in the church to pressure future popes to resign for reasons other than health.”
Here’s the full text of Pope’s statement, as presented on the Vatican web site:
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 barque 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