To the shock and surprise of the religious world, The Vatican made an announcement not heard in roughly 600 years: a Pope had decided to step down as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
On Monday Feb. 11th in an assembly with a number of Cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI told the world that effective Feb. 28, 2013, he would be stepping down from the position.
This announcement comes to a shock to the Catholic world as a whole, as it is almost unheard of for a Pope to abdicate their role as the head of the Catholic Church and its 1 billion members. The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who did so in order to heal a growing divide in the church at the time. Pope Benedict cites his old age and the toll the responsibility as pontiff has taken on his health.
As reported by NPR news, the Pope said “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.”
Benedict XVI (formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger) was elected in 2005 by the College of Cardinals after the passing of his widely popular predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The College of Cardinals is scheduled for March 15 to convene for the Papal conclave, though some reports indicate it may start before then.
The resignation of Pope Benedict may signify some possible change for the church. Benedict was widely known for his conservatism as throughout his papacy, he spoke against the “growing secularism” in the western world. The Holy Father maintained bans against divorces, gay marriage, birth control, abortions, stem cell research, female priests and other issues seems as progressive reforms to liberal Catholics.
To many conservative Catholics, Benedict was a champion of tradition and theology. Chicago’s own Cardinal Francis George, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, said in a statement “He has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ, he has handed on the apostolic faith, he has loved all of God’s people with all his heart.” This opinion reflects that of many within in the church who found Benedict to be stalwart in defending the doctrines of the Catholic Church.
The church is now at a crossroads. Though there is no formal nomination process, several reports indicate that the Papacy may be taken up by what many think are the position’s front-runners. These include New York’s Timothy Dolan, Luis Tagale from the Philippines, Peter Turkson of Ghana, Brazilian Odilo Scherer, and Angelo Scola of Italy among others. Many of the Cardinals participating in the conclave this March were put there by Pope Benedict himself, 67 of the 117 in fact. And with the conclave needing a two-thirds majority to elect a new leader, this ratio leads experts to believe that the next Pope will be just as conservative as the last. Though with the amount of Catholics shrinking in the church, Cardinals may elect a man who is ready to bring Catholicism to the modern world.