Cardinals pressured to elect pope from developing world
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful gathered at the Colosseum in Rome during the Way Of The Cross procession on Good Friday last year. He announced today he was stepping down at the end of this month for health reasons. Photograph: Franco Origli
Pope Benedict XVI took the world by surprise this morning in Rome when he announced that he would be resigning at the end of this month.
Speaking in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican, Pope Benedict said that he had “come to the certainty” that his strengths “are no longer suited” to fulfilling the ministry of Pope.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
In becoming the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, Benedict has taken even his closest advisors by surprise.
At a news briefing today, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi indicated that almost no one knew of the Pope’s intentions.He said it was his understanding the current dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was informed of the Pope’s decision only very shortly before the announcement.
Benedict will remain as Pope until 8.00pm on February 28th. Until that time, he retains all his spiritual and temporal authority.
At that point, there begins a period of interregnum or sede vacante (empty chair), when the Church will essentially be administered by the “Camerlengo” or Chamberlain, the current Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who will summon the 120 Cardinals worldwide to Rome for a conclave to elect the next Pope.
Fr Lombardi indicated that, if this election process follows along the lines of previous ones, then the new Pope should be elected “within the space of a month” - in other words, before the end of March.
Benedict will take no part in that conclave, but rather will retire to the Pope’s summer residence of Castelgandolfo prior to taking up residence in a closed order monastery within the grounds of the Apostolic Palace.
Even if today’s announcement came as a complete surprise, attentive observers might have intuited something from remarks made by the Pope in his interview-book with German journalist Peter Seewald, three years ago.
In that book, Benedict explained: "When the Pope comes to the awareness that he psychically, physically and spiritually cannot manage his office any longer, then he has the right, indeed is understood to be duty bound to step down.”
Benedict added the Pope should not resign because of difficulties or dangers but rather could only consider resignation at a moment of relative calm for the Church.
With hindsight, the Pope may have given another indication of his intention to resign when he called a second consistory for the appointment of new Cardinals last October.