Pope Resigns In Historic Move
February 12, 2013 in World News
VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff in six centuries to resign, marking the end of a transitional papacy that focused more on theological and internal renewal and less on the broader challenges that face the Roman Catholic church at the start of its 21st century of existence.
U.S. Catholic Church expert Chester Gillis joins Lunch Break with a look at the legacy Pope Benedict XVI leaves behind, who is most likely to succeed him, and what to expect in the coming days and weeks as the Church prepares for the papal transition. Photo: AP.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan reflects on Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will resign the Papacy, effective Feb. 28, at a press conference in New York. Photo: AP Images.
The pope’s surprise announcement paves the way for a successor who will confront anew the task of rebuilding the church’s foundations in an increasingly secular and skeptical West while continuing to spread its roots in the rapidly growing emerging world.
The 85-year-old pope, who before his 2005 election was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, announced the decision to step down in a speech in Latin Monday to a small group of cardinals, saying he no longer had the vitality to perform his duties. Only two top Vatican cardinals were informed beforehand.
“The resignation itself is a real act of courage,” said Terrence W. Tilley, head of the theology department at Fordham University in New York. “It is showing that he thinks of himself as a servant of the church, not some kind of superstar who should dominate it.”
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, center, left a meeting of the Vatican cardinals Monday in which he announced his resignation.
Reaction from Mexico
The resignation of Benedict, who heads a church of one billion world-wide, was emblematic of a pope who, though doctrinal in his teachings, often bucked traditions when it came to opening the Vatican up to the world beyond its medieval walls.
The pope spoke out about the scandals involving sexual abuse by priests that have roiled the church in the U.S. and other Western countries, and removed many clerics implicated in them. Still, he drew criticism from some that he didn’t speak out strongly enough or deal forcefully enough with the crisis, which has cost the church hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with thousands of abuse victims and badly damaged its image world-wide.
Among the pope’s achievements, he took on a centuries-old rift between the Catholic and Anglican churches, introducing a pathway for disaffected Anglicans to enter the Catholic fold. He also tried to lift the veil on the Vatican’s opaque finances by bringing in international observers to monitor the creation of the Holy See’s first financial watchdog. He was the first pontiff to seize on social media, sending messages to a sea of followers over Twitter.
“His fidelity to maintaining the truth and clarity of the Catholic faith, to cultivating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and in reaching out to inspire the next generation of Catholics have been great gifts to us all,” said Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley.
Pope Benedict is considered a leading theologian and praised for his extensive writing but has also been controversial. WSJ’s Stacy Meictry assesses the pontiff’s eight-year papacy. Photo: Reuters
In all, his concerns were typical of a pope who didn’t shy away from the most volatile issues facing the Catholic Church. “Some people describe him as merely an intellectual who moved in a metaphysical world. No, he’s also a man who governed with a huge sense of moral responsibility,” said Cardinal Julián Herranz, who has worked closely alongside the pope.
In his speech Monday, Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, said his strength “had deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity.” After he steps down, the pope will retreat to a monastery to pray and write, his spokesman said.
Pope Benedict XVI greeted people in front of a huge image of Jesus Christ in Krakow in May 2006.
The pontiff’s visibly increasing frailness over the past few months had raised concerns that a second consecutive pope might have to govern the church through delicate times while physically debilitated. His predecessor, John Paul II, suffered from Parkinson’s disease and his illness played out on the public stage. In 2010, Pope Benedict suggested that a pope would have the right, or even obligation, to step down if he were incapacitated.
“I was with the pope about a month ago, and he looked very tired,” said Msgr. Ricardo Ezzati, the Archbishop of Santiago, Chile. “He looked like he had the strength of a man who’s got great faith but a man who’s also tired from his age and the weight of having to carry the church forward at all times.”
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to end a dispute among competing papal claimants.
Given the surprising nature of the announcement, there are no obvious front-runners. The cardinals are now expected to meet in early March for the conclave, the secret meeting to elect a new pope. Just as in 2005, when Pope Benedict was elected, there is likely to be pressure from faithful in developing countries to elect a pope from Africa, Asia or Latin America. Those are the regions where the Catholic faith is thriving.
Review some of the men being talked about as Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.
Still, “there’s no consensus around a single name,” said Sandro Magister, a longtime Vatican analyst.
The resignation comes as the pope juggles a host of critical issues that have buffeted the Catholic Church in recent years, including the rise of Islam and the continued emptying of pews in Europe.
Pope Benedict also has had to deal with a wave of cases in which priests had sexually abused children—incidents that often occurred a decade or more ago, but revelations of which exploded across the world during his papacy.
Critics say the pope didn’t find definitive solutions. The pontiff strengthened Vatican rules for disciplining abusive priests, and he introduced guidelines for handling reports of alleged sex abuse. He also met with abuse victims on several occasions. However, he stopped short of forcing church officials to report all allegations of sexual abuse to police.
“Pope Benedict took a few, tiny, window-dressing steps toward resolving the crisis,” said Kristine Ward, chairwoman of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, a support group for victims of sexual abuse. “The church is in bad shape and needs the tremendous power of the papacy to be used courageously and forcefully for good—starting with the sexual-abuse crisis.”
In a sign of the continuing damage from the crisis, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was recently stripped of his public duties after the archdiocese released thousands of pages of personnel files for 124 priests it suspected of sexually abusing children. The files were released earlier this month as part of a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 abuse victims in 2007. (Cardinal Mahony, who has apologized for his conduct and remains a priest in good standing, is eligible to vote in the coming conclave.)
Pope Benedict’s efforts to address the cultural divisions between Islam and Christianity briefly stirred controversy in 2006 when the pontiff delivered an academic speech that quoted a Byzantine emperor making deprecating remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. A wave of deadly riots washed across the Muslim world, prompting an apology from the pope.
Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, in a photo provided by the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper.
Behind that controversy was a broader debate facing the church: how and whether to fight the decline of the pope’s flock in Europe, the church’s home, while increasing attention on regions were Catholicism is growing rapidly: Asia, Africa and parts of Latin America.
“The church needs an evangelizer,” Cardinal Herranz said. A successor to Pope Benedict, he added, should be chosen “independently of skin color.”
Vatican officials also say the church would benefit from a strong hand capable of managing a Vatican administration that has become increasingly unwieldy as it has grown in size. One example is the Vatican Bank, which manages funds for religious orders across the world. The notoriously secretive financial institution is in the middle of a delicate overhaul that has drawn scrutiny from international regulators.
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