Pope Benedict XVI to resign citing poor health


Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation in a surprise statement

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of this month after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church, saying he is too old to continue at the age of 85.

The unexpected development - the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years - surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even his closest aides.

The Vatican says it expects a new Pope to be elected before Easter.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after John Paul II's death.

Pope Benedict XVI

  • At 78, one of the oldest new popes in history when elected in 2005
  • Born in Germany in 1927, joined Hitler Youth during WWII and was conscripted as an anti-aircraft gunner but deserted
  • As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spent 24 years in charge of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition
  • A theological conservative, with uncompromising views on homosexuality and women priests
  • Reached out to other faiths, visiting sites holy to Muslims and Jews

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the move has come as a shock - but adds that in theory there has never been anything stopping Pope Benedict or any of his predecessors from stepping aside.

Under the Catholic Church's governing code, Canon Law, the only conditions for the validity of such a resignation are that it be made freely and be properly published.

But resignation is extremely rare: the last Pope to step aside was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 amid a schism within the Church.

Doctor's advice

A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that even Pope Benedict's closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left "incredulous". He added that the decision showed "great courage" and "determination".

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he was "greatly shaken by this unexpected news".

At the scene

The Pope's elder brother Georg and his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, were probably the only people to know in advance about Joseph Ratzinger's long-pondered decision to step down from the papacy. Even the Vatican's official spokesman admitted he had been taken by surprise.

But the signs were there for anyone to read. For the first time in decades no papal travel plans had been announced for 2013. Visitors to the Vatican had noticed his weakened voice. He sometimes uses a cane to walk, and has cut back of all his public engagements. The 2013 Easter vigil mass, perhaps the most important liturgy of the year, usually celebrated at midnight, had been scheduled for early evening this year, to allow the Pope to retire well before midnight.

But by Easter 2013 the Roman Catholic Church should have a new spiritual leader - and his identity is sure to be another surprise.

The brother of the German-born Pope said the pontiff had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.

Speaking to the BBC from his home in Regensburg in Germany, Georg Ratzinger said his brother's resignation was part of a "natural process".

"When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly," he said.

There would be no interference in choosing a successor, Georg Ratzinger said: "Where he's needed he will make himself available, but he will not want to want to intervene in the affairs of his successor."

The next Pope will be chosen by members of a 117-strong nominating conclave held in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Analysts say Europeans - and Italian-speakers specifically - are still among the favourites, but strong candidates could emerge from Africa and Latin America, which both have very large Catholic populations.

The Pope was to retire to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo when he leaves office, the Vatican said, before moving into a renovated monastery used by cloistered nuns for "a period of prayer and reflection".

'Full freedom'

At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when elected.

He took the helm as one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades - the scandal of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking.

In a statement, the pontiff 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.

Damian Thompson, former editor of the Catholic Herald, says the Pope has made a "brave move"

"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 steer the ship 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil 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."

A theological conservative before and during his time as Pope, he has taken traditional positions on homosexuality and women priests, while urging abstinence instead of blessing the use of contraceptives.

European press roundup

The Pope's shock resignation on health grounds is an "eruption of modernity" into the Vatican, according to Ezio Mauro, chief editor of Italy's La Repubblica daily.

The Spanish daily El Mundo says Benedict XVI will be remembered as "God's sweeper" - the man who tried to resolve the "numerous problems of the Church that did so much harm to its image".

The editor of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Bernd Riegert, calls the Pope's move "a courageous step, a revolutionary step". "He has helped himself to freedom, he is setting boundaries. No longer will successors be able to cling onto their office."

His attempts at inter-faith relations were mixed, with Muslims, Jews and Protestants all taking offence at various times, despite ongoing efforts to reach out and visits to key holy sites, including those in Jerusalem.

A German government spokesman said he was "moved and touched" by the surprise resignation of the pontiff.

"The German government has the highest respect for the Holy Father, for what he has done, for his contributions over the course of his life to the Catholic Church.

"He has left a very personal signature as a thinker at the head of the Church, and also as a shepherd."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1574.

    The catholic church like all reigions is a business nothing more nothing less all dressed up in religious dogma invented by sucessive people in power who have changed the rules for themselves. Im sure if jesus or god existed they wouldnt be so harsh or quick to judge anyone who does not fit what the powers that be dictate. Im wating for the real reason he resigned its called the TRUTH

  • rate this

    Comment number 1573.

    I feel organised religion has had it's day and no longer seems relevant to the modern world.
    I try to use my own moral compass to guide my actions in life and try to be the best person I can be, even though it might not always be easy.
    The Catholic church has suffered from sex scandals and a lack of modernisation in it's views. The only way organised religion can survive is to modernise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1572.

    In the 2001 Census, 8% of the UK population called itself Roman Catholic. Therefore, this story is completely irrelevant to 92% of the people. Otherwise, it's basically "85 year old man says he is 'too old' to do his job properly". Well, duh....

  • Comment number 1571.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1570.

    Good riddance, the catholic church is a menace to society, the sooner it destroys itself the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1569.

    I am a newcomer to this forum and am astonished and deeply saddened by the depth of ignorance and extreme intolerance expressed by so many contributors. The notion of a civilised, liberal and tolerant Britain appears to be a gross hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1568.

    @Retro Knight science makes the bombs of course it does. it also makes cures and things like condoms and emotions and all your loved ones, in fact science is responsible for every single thing we can see hear and touch. try proving on here while everyone's reading and tell me where is ur god? greed is also a cause. isnt that one of ur sins? but kiddy fiddlers hide behind your book? nice approach

  • rate this

    Comment number 1567.

    I don't believe in any religion.

    I am not interested what religious organisation do . As long as they leave me alone and don't pester me to join them T hey can do what they want. There are many other people in this world that talk nonsense and make promises they later don't keep. Politician are prime examples.

    What I will not do is spit at an old man or at a dead man.

    It is beneath contempt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1566.

    The highest and lowest ratings seem to reflect the true feelings towards the Catholic church and religion in general.Excellent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1565.

    I am amazed how much coverage the Pope (and not just this now resigned Pope) gets from the BBC. Top news story on the 6 O'clock TV news? Considering the number of Roman Catholics in the UK is should be much lower down the running order. Please get your priorities right. I am sure than the vast majority of the population is not that inerested.

  • Comment number 1564.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1563.

    So many negative comments today just look at #1 and 2 Catholics will get on with it I suggest we all use Lent to pray to our Blessed Mother and ask her to help us make the right choice. So why not take the time each night and pray for her help. May The Lord help the Holy Father enjoy his retirement

  • rate this

    Comment number 1562.

    It must be back breaking having to wear and carry all that Gold around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1561.

    There appears to be people either in denial or ignorant of the Christian atrocities. A conservative estimate is that 250 million people have been murdered by Christians for religious reasons in the past 2,000 years
    One only need read the Bible to see how easily metaphor can become reality. metaphysical paradigms are explained using war-like imagery, it's a shame some take them literally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1560.

    Pope Benedict XVI' visit to the UK was the most inspiring visit I have ever witnessed...and I am an atheist. I was left speechless. His gentleness and presence humbled me. I see more clearly now that people who don't like what he stands for try to make him out to be a German rottweiler but all I saw was a German Shepherd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1559.

    Will he end up in Bournemouth? What? What did i say...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1558.

    God Bless the Pope Passed, Present, and Future..

  • rate this

    Comment number 1557.

    Yoda,Factually that prize goes to atheism.Crusades:1,000,000 S. Inq:350,000.Witch Hunts:100,000 Total: 1,450,000 killed-www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.TAB3.1.GIF
    Atrocities of atheistic societies China(Mao Soviets,1923-1948):3,468,000.Peoples Rep.China(1949-1987):76,702,000.U.S.S.R.(1917- 1987):61,911,000.Total murders:142,081,000.Do you want me to mention The Khmer Rouge and N.Korea?only 20th C.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1556.

    3 Minutes ago
    I was brought up to believe that EVERYONE was equal. Religion goes very much against that view. Sad really
    Having grown up you must know by now that people are NOT equal. Spot the differences: sex, colour, ability, educational standard, health, intelligence, ambition, life achievement, etc. etc. What matters in this context is freedom in law of religious choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1555.

    The Catholic church's Inquisition and Islam's jihadism have sought to conquer the world by the sword of faith. Millions have been massacred in the name of God. This is more like mass murder than a loving religion.


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