Pope stuns Catholics with plans to resign
BY NICOLE WINFIELD & VICTOR L. SIMPSON Associated Press
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
2/12/13 at 5:08 AM
Related Story: Local clerics say Benedict to be fondly remembered
VATICAN CITY - With a few words in Latin, Pope Benedict VXI did what no pope has done in more than half a millennium, stunning the world by announcing his resignation Monday and leaving the already troubled Catholic Church to replace the leader of its 1 billion followers by Easter.
Not even his closest associates had advance word of the news, which was announced during a morning meeting of Vatican cardinals. And with no clear favorites to succeed him, another surprise likely awaits when the cardinals elect Benedict's successor next month.
"Without doubt this is a historic moment," said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a protege and former theology student of Benedict's who is considered a papal contender. "Right now, 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath."
The move allows for a fast-track conclave to elect a new pope, because the traditional nine days of mourning that would follow a pope's death doesn't have to be observed. It also gives the 85-year-old Benedict great sway over the choice of his successor. He will not himself vote, but Benedict has hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals - the princes of the church who will elect his successor - to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.
The resignation may mean that age will become less of a factor when electing a new pope, as candidates may no longer feel compelled to stay for life.
"For the century to come, I think that none of Benedict's successors will feel morally obliged to remain until their death," Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said.
Benedict said as recently as 2010 that a pontiff should resign if he got too old or infirm to do the job, but it was a tremendous surprise when he said in Latin that his "strength of mind and body" had diminished and that he couldn't carry on. He said he would resign effective 8 p.m. local time on Feb. 28.
As a top aide, Benedict watched from up close as Pope John Paul II suffered publicly from the Parkinson's disease that enfeebled him in the final years of his papacy. Clearly Benedict wanted to avoid the same fate as his advancing age took its toll, though the Vatican insisted the announcement was not prompted by any specific malady.
The Vatican said Benedict would live in a congregation for cloistered nuns inside the Vatican, though he will be free to go in and out. Much of this is new territory. The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he isn't even sure of Benedict's title - perhaps "pope emeritus."
Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has charted a very conservative course for the church, trying to reawaken Christianity in Europe where it had fallen by the wayside and return the church to its traditional roots, which he felt had been betrayed by a botched interpretation of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
His efforts though, were overshadowed by a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal, communication gaffes that outraged Jews and Muslims alike, and, more recently, a scandal over leaked documents by his own butler. Many of his stated priorities as pope also fell short: He failed to establish relations with China, heal the schism and reunite with the Orthodox Church, or reconcile with a group of breakaway, traditionalist Catholics.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner - the same situation as when Benedict was elected after the death of John Paul.
As in recent elections, some push is expected for the election of a Third World pope, with several names emerging from Asia, Africa and Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world's Catholics.
Although popes are allowed to resign, only a handful have done it - though none for a very long time.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants.
Electing a pope: conclave, oath, chimney smoke
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation
sets in motion a complex
sequence of events to elect the
next leader of the Roman Catholic
Church. The laws governing
the selection after a pope’s resignation
are the same as those
in force after a papal death,
aside from skipping a period of
HERE IS THE PROCEDURE:
- The Vatican summons a
conclave of cardinals that must
begin 15-20 days after Benedict’s
Feb. 28 resignation.
- Cardinals eligible to vote, those
under age 80, are sequestered
within Vatican City and take an
oath of secrecy.
- There are currently 118 cardinals
under age 80 and eligible to
vote, 67 of whom were appointed
by Benedict. However, four of
them will turn 80 before the end
of March. Depending on the date
of the conclave, they may or may
not be allowed to vote.
- Any baptized Roman Catholic
male is eligible for election as
pope, but only cardinals have
been selected since 1378.
- Two ballots are held each
morning and two each afternoon
in the Sistine Chapel. A
two-thirds majority is required.
Benedict in 2007 reverted back
to this two-thirds majority
rule, reversing a 1996 decision
by Pope John Paul II, who had
decreed that a simple majority
could be invoked after about
12 days of inconclusive voting.
Benedict did so to prevent
cardinals from holding out for
12 days then pushing through a
candidate who had only a slim
- Ballots are burned after each
round. Black smoke means no
decision; white smoke signals
that cardinals have chosen a
pope and he has accepted. Bells
also signal the election of a pope
to help avoid possible confusion
over color of smoke coming
from the chimney of the Sistine
- The new pope is introduced
from the loggia overlooking St.
Peter’s Square with the words
“Habemus Papam!” (Latin for
“We have a pope!”) and he then
imparts his first blessing.
Pope Benedict VXI: He surprised even his closest associates with news that he was stepping down.