The Pope Resigns
This past Monday history was made when an event that hasn’t taken place in centuries occured; Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. The last pope to resign, Gregory XII, did so in 1415, 10 years into his tenure, in the midst of a leadership crisis. When Benedict XVI became pope in 2005 at age 78, no one predicted that this would happen. If writing and books alone could keep the church on track, Benedict would be looked upon as efficacious. His encyclicals on love and charity and his three books on the life of Jesus were widely acclaimed and admired for their clarity and contribution to Catholic teaching. However, out of the books, and in the real world, Benedict often appeared to bounce from one crisis to the next. Benedict XVI inadvertently insulted Muslims, welcomed back a breakaway bishop who had recorded an interview denying facts of the Holocaust, told reporters winging toward Africa that condoms had helped spread AIDS, and had many more slip ups along the way.
The German author and journalist Peter Seewald asked Pope Benedict in the summer of 2010 whether he was considering resigning then, a time when new reports of clerical sexual abuse were being published in several European countries.
“When the danger is great, one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign,” he told Seewald. The pope did tell him, though, “one can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say that someone else should do it.” No one viewed this as foreshadowing regarding what occurred this week. In recent months, Benedict, 85, has been showing signs of age, but few expected him to resign so suddenly.
“In today’s world,” Benedict said in his announcement, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of St. 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” During what was supposed to be a routine meeting to discuss the canonization of three potential saints, Benedict read a statement that said, in part, that after examining his 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 leading the world’s one billion Roman Catholics. He was resigning on Feb. 28, he said, becoming the first pope to do so in six centuries.