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 1614.

    Hooray! Good riddance to someone who has defended the indefensible within his church. Unfortunately another one will come along and nothing will change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1613.


    "The Pope's resignation is sad.... One question though, what will he be called when he resigns?"

    Not-So-Supreme ex-Pontiff?

    Why sad, though? I think that it will be nice nice for him to put his slippers on, relax by the fire and leaf through the SAGA holiday brochure...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1612.

    I do not believe that for the first time in 600 years- a Pope who seems in much better shape than the LAST one - has decided to 'Retire' - There must be something that will - or would have - come out that is causing this decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1611.

    @Catherine 1517. I couldn't agree more about the bile and spite but I don't think it's a British anti Catholic thing per se. It's a small group of anti Catholics who post a lot of drivel on many sites and don't understand any form of Christianity. Budgood 1518, your knowledge of this Pope is zero. Everyone had to join the Hitler Youth but he had the courage to disobey orders and leave his group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1610.

    How good it would be not to elect a new Pope, that would make a nice change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1609.

    Its no loss probably the best thing he has done is to step down, lets hope the cardinals nowy elect a younger modernising pope, who will bring the Catholic church into the 21st century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1608.


    "keeping millions of people across Africa enslaved in poverty with it's wicked... teachings"

    Whatever you think of the Church's teachings they are not the cause of Africa's economic woes. Pre-industrial societies have lots of kids due to the high post natal death rate.

    As for primeval myth - do you think City will retain their title?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1607.

    The succession problem is already resolved. Tony Blair has decided he will do it. After all, he already gives God advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1606.

    Resigns,,the Catholic church should be up in court,,after the kiddy fiddling scandal,it now turns out they put children into slavery in Ireland and profited from it,whilst abusing them,,all in the name of your so called loving god,what a joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1605.

    Ask yourselves what has he done to make the world a better place? Can we measure the good he has bought the world from his position of extreme wealth and power? If he clearly has then his resignation would be sad but I don't see that he has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1604.

    Your god is also man made, do you mind us treating it with the same disdain that you treat democracy?

    We don't hate Catholicism, we hate those that force their believes on us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1603.

    This resignation is the result of modern thinking. Old thinking would insist on divine will till his death. May be we are indeed seeing the beginning of 'thinking' displacing 'believe' of divine will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1602.

    I predict that within 10 years all Christianity will have been gobbled up by Scientology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1601.

    As an atheist and somewhat of an anti-religionist I nevertheless find it very sad that so many people of my same persuasion are using this event to knock the church and everything to do with it. A man who finds that his job has got beyond his advanced years has decided to step aside and let someone younger take over. That is all that should concern us, today is not a day for the broader issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1600.

    1522. DW said:-
    Just so all the atheists biggots really understand:
    1) The Catholic church is not a democracy. .........
    2) The Pope's alternative to condoms is not having sex........
    3) We don't care what the world thinks.........

    I say:-
    1) the Catholic church is a Dictatorship
    2) no sex? - out of touch with the human condition
    3) in a fantasy bubble and in need of a reality check

  • rate this

    Comment number 1599.

    I think of myself as a mixture between an atheist and an agnostic and I really have to respect his choice in resigning from his role as the Pope. Better to do it while he's still able to do so.

    and I had to answer to the "nice" comment about science killing
    more people than religion or faith. It's not science that kills.
    It's people.
    Religion gives a reason and
    science provides the tools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1598.

    Had comment censured as it was supposed to be off comment, wising the Pope well and also pointing out other truths that BBC don't like. It is a pity that BBC will allow people to castigate Christianity but have a fit when you criticise other well knowing religion.Sad and pathetic BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 1597.

    It is my desperate hope that with the resignation of this Pope, millions of Catholics around the World will stop and re-evaluate lives. Maybe, just maybe, a few more of them might see sense and consider thought and reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1596.

    At times like this we need a futile gesture.Bravo.
    Why did he blame his agent-was it because he didn't get the director's job on Argo ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1595.

    I wonder how many people in this country are Catholic. 8%? 10%. Why are we getting overkill on this story?


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