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Why Pope Benedict is Resigning

Pope Benedict Joseph Ratzinger

Most of us woke this morning to the shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning as head of the Roman Catholic church. Considering that Vicar of Christ is traditionally a position one holds for life, we all wondered what could have prompted the move. His explanation in full, via a note to the College of Cardinals:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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. 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 govern the bark 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 fulfill 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.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

So, basically, he’s too damned old and tired to carry out what must be exhausting duties. But that didn’t stop his predecessor, John Paul II, who spent the last several years of his papacy suffering from Parkinson’s disease and barely able to function. While that’s the traditional route, Benedict’s choice strikes me as much more logical.

As the NYT notes, “The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who left the papacy in 1415 to end what was known as the Western Schism among several competitors for the papacy.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    Frankly, his retiring before he became too enfeebled was a good idea.Would that JP2 had done that.
    Lets hope for a more liberal, and farsighted leader to replace him as Pope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  2. Al says:

    My favorite quip on this comes from @TweetOfGod: “The innocent explanation may be that the Pope just wants to spend more time with other people’s grandchildren.”

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  3. mukasa kalule Godfrey says:

    This act may look strange, and indeed it shocked me first but after some time I realized that at times its honorable to stand a side if you really feel you cant not fulfill the duties of any nature be it in church or outside church, I will pray for him for he has a contribution added to the catholic church.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. Tony W says:

    Interesting, I wonder what they have on him….

    I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church

    Also – you have to admire that level of alliteration from such an aged man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Al:
    Walter, on the previous pope thread, said the jokes would get worse.

    More seriously, maybe this will help the Church modernize itself into an organization better suited to the 19th century.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    Most cardinals today are more Conservative than when John Paul II was the pope. Bernard Law was trounced by the Child Abuse Scandal, most Cardinals in Latin America are more Conservative than during the heyday of the Liberation Theology, the European Church is more conservative than ever.

    I´d like to see a non-European as a Pope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Why not retire…he’s earned himself a nice comfortable retirement…undoubtedly with a large harem of young nubile boys to service him.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 14

  8. Fiona says:

    I too think it makes sense for him to retire now rather than wait until death overtakes him,, all the while growing more enfeebled and possibly senile. Too bad too many elderly politicians and judges don’t have the same grace to bow out at a reasonable age.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  9. Tony W says:

    @stonetools:

    Lets hope for a more liberal, and farsighted leader to replace him as Pope.

    Agreed, the Vatican needs a Gorbachev or Mandela type leader to radically move them a new direction. But one could have said that at any time since well before Martin Luther wielded his hammer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tony W:

    Also – you have to admire that level of alliteration from such an aged man.

    He is not only the Pope, he is a very able Public Intellectual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Andre Kenji: He is the very model of the modern Magisterium.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Not just that Andre. The bishops today are more conservative than when John Paul II was elevated to the papacy. Virtually all of the cardinals who will be voting for the next pope were made cardinals either under John Paul II or Benedict XVI.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. C. Clavin says:

    “…He is not only the Pope, he is a very able Public Intellectual…”

    He is nothing more than a protector of child molesters. Period. End of story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  14. James in LA says:

    Now come the RICO charges, for him, and those he is protecting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  15. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Both Benedict’s choice to step down and John Paul II’s choice to stay in to the end are honorable choices, for honorable reasons. JP’s choice demonstrated his reverence for life and for letting God make the decision when his reign would end; Benedict’s choice spares the Church an infirm leader.

    As far as the next Pope? I predict he will be a Catholic. Beyond that, it’s all guesswork. But the hopes expressed above that he won’t be so Catholic, more secular and less of a Jesus groupie… ain’t gonna happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  16. Mikey says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I´d like to see a non-European as a Pope.

    I heard on the news this morning the front-runners to replace Benedict include Marc Ouellet (Canada) and Peter Turkson (Ghana). So you could see a non-European Pope, or even the first African Pope since about the year 500.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Barry says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the real goal is to choose his successor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    I remember there was a lot of hope that an African or South American would be chosen after JPII died. Considering that this is an area that is actually experiencing a growth in Catholicism, the Church would probably be wise to consider this again.

    Great news about Peter Turkson being a front runner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. C. Clavin says:

    “…Both Benedict’s choice to step down and John Paul II’s choice to stay in to the end are honorable choices, for honorable reasons…”

    How the protector of child molesters ever gets called honorable in any context is beyond reason. It certainly points to all that is wrong with the catholic church specifically and religion in general. What is inexcusable in the real world becomes honorable when you put on some nice flowing velvet robes and a pointy hat. Until all catholics condemn this pervert and those he protects the church should be considered irrelevant. And yet it does it’s best to force it’s antiquated dogma on others. Just total f’ing BS. And if you buy it…any of it…then you are willfully endorsing pedophilia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  20. C. Clavin says:

    Headlines should read:
    “…”Child Molester Resigns; Cultists Swoon…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  21. Ben says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    All I’ll add to your prediction is that the next pope will continue the age-old tradition of protecting and sheltering child molesters from any sort of justice, the young victims be damned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I´d like to see a non-European as a Pope.

    I’d like to see an end of the Papacy. A man can dream, can’t he?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  23. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps he is going to turn state’s evidence, testify against the child molesters, and clean up the Catholic Church… Or continue to abide by the sickening crimes, and burn in hell for all eternity.

    One of the two.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  24. scott says:

    I hope that the precedent of resigning rather than dying takes hold. The role takes much energy and vigor and the Church deserves to have that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Only Pope Pope Benedict XVI himself could know if he absolutely cannot do it anymore and we should respect his decision. It seems that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the archbishop of Quebec City, has the best odds of replacing the Pope and he is expected to be the continuity of Benedict XVI.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  26. Al says:

    Well this makes me feel much better about who will get elected as Pope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. C. Clavin says:

    So Shanna…

    “…It seems that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the archbishop of Quebec City, has the best odds of replacing the Pope and he is expected to be the continuity of Benedict XVI…”

    You hope that the Catholic Church keeps raping little boys and covering it up…as Benedict XVI has done for the duration of his tenure?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  28. cd6 says:

    I expect that instead of picking a pope, the cardinals will trade down to hoard later draft picks, and also save salary cap space. They really need somebody to help support Fitzgerald, he can’t carry the team himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  29. C. Clavin says:

    In 2001 then Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter to every single bishop reminding them that reporting the rape and torture of little boys was a grave crime indeed.
    This is the failed man you religious nuts follow mindlessly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  30. PJ says:

    @Barry:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the real goal is to choose his successor.

    Yup.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. Andre Kenji says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’d like to see an end of the Papacy.

    That´s up for you, not for me. I want the Church to be a modern Church and I want a Church that manages to corrects it´s errors. Anyone is free to think otherwise, but I´m free to defend the Church.

    I´m a bad Catholic, but I don´t like people judging other people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. M. Bouffant says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I want a Church that manages to correct its errors.

    Pretty tough request for an outfit that considers its capo di tutti capi to be infallible. How can the church admit it’s wrong?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. matt bernius says:

    @Mikey:

    I heard on the news this morning the front-runners to replace Benedict include Marc Ouellet (Canada) and Peter Turkson (Ghana). So you could see a non-European Pope, or even the first African Pope since about the year 500.

    As an observer with no horse in the race, either of these picks would surprise me. I honestly don’t think that Council of Cardinals are prepared to elect a non-European pope. I’m also curious as to whether or not they will go for a younger candidate or not.

    Additionally, I have to wonder whether or not Benedict’s decision will become a new “tradition.” It seems to me to be a much more modern choice, and one that brings the seat of Peter into modern times (and steps away from the traditional image of the “God King”).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Andre Kenji says:

    @M. Bouffant:

    How can the church admit it’s wrong?

    1-) The Church is made of humans, and they admitted wrongdoing several times.

    2-) There is a bigger point missing in this discussion: the Catholic Church is an important institution because they are a neutral institution, specially in Catholic Countries. Even Dictators are reluctant of killing Priests – in Brazil, Dom Evaristo Arns, the Archbishop of São Paulo, was a vocal critic of the torture during the Military Dictatorship and an important force for the redemocratization of the country. John Paul II was a big force during the fall of the Soviet Union. The Pope helped to avert a war between Chile and Argentina due to the Beagle Strait in 1978, the Chuch also opposed the War in Iraq.

    That´s why African Priests condemning condoms or the obsession of American Bishops with contraception are such egregious things: the Church should have a positive influence on the society. The Church should be worried about the Death Penalty, immigrants, and the weakest in the society, not with pills and vaginas.

    Both Catholics and Non-Catholics should be demanding a higher standard from the Church, because that´s necessary. It´s simple as that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. HelloWorld! says:

    The Catholic Church has had a lot of phases. There was a time when they were oppressive and brutal, and a time when they were liberal and reasonable. Lets not forget that if it weren’t forthe Catholic church the writtings of Plato and Soccraties and many works of greek philosophy and literature whould have been perminently destroyed.

    I’m not excusing their current positions on birth control, gays, and phony miracle performed but you have to look at the good as well. Hopefully, Benedict stepping down will yield a younger, more rational, more christian like pope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. C. Clavin says:

    “…Both Catholics and Non-Catholics should be demanding a higher standard from the Church, because that´s necessary…”

    Yeah…becausean institution that is a haven for raping little boys is a pretty low friggin’ standard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. Justinian says:

    Excuse me or answering the question asked, why the current pope is resigning, a thing not done for nearly six hundred years.

    To me, the historical change is that the papacy is now televised. In the (historical) past, if the pope were unable to celebrate the mass of Christ’s nativity, or unable to deliver the address to the City and to the World at Easter, only people in Rome were appreciably disappointed, and few others even took notice.

    Now, the pope is expected to be in the spotlight for a worldwide audience. And John Paul set a higher standard of expectation. Popes now need to have something of a stage presence and even a bit of charisma.

    John Paul’s decision to remain pope even in his infirmity may be viewed like so much else in his pontificate: exceptional. It is Benedict’s decision to retire into a life of prayer that may well become the new normal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0