In a stunning announcement today, Pope Benedict XVI said that he would be resigning at the end of the month. It’s rare for a pope to retire (the last one to do so was 600 years ago), and only nine have done so in the entire history of the Catholic church. Pope Benedict cites his age and health as his reasons for retirement. George Ratzinger, his brother, supports that claim and says the Pope was discouraged from taking transatlantic flights by his physician and that simply walking had started to become increasingly difficult.
While this move comes as a surprise to the Vatican and the rest of the world, Pope Benedict himself nodded to such an exit in an interview when he said, “If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.” In retrospect, it appears as if he was merely heeding his own advice. Some experts in the Catholic world, however, suspect that this is an effort on Pope Benedict’s behalf to indirectly address the problem of popes serving long into their elderly years, oftentimes after suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Will this make a change to how the Catholic church chooses a pope? Who are the potential successors? What does this mean going forward? If you’re Catholic, how are you processing this news?
John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church” (Viking Adult, 2013)
Cathy Grossman, USA TODAY's reporter on religion, spirituality and ethics, she wrote the paper’s cover story on Benedict XVI’s announcement today.
Father Allan Figueroa Deck, Charles S. Casassa Chair of Catholic Social Values at Loyola Marymount University