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Why did the Pope resign?
February 11th, 2013
02:26 PM ET

Why did the Pope resign?

By Eric Marrapodi CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN)–The questions reverberated from the Vatican to every corner of the Catholic world and left a billion members scratching their heads over something not seen since 1415 - why is the pope resigning now?

Pope Benedict XVI, 85, said Monday that it was because of his age.

"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 read in Latin to a group of cardinals gathered to examine causes for canonization.

The pressures may well have been too much for him to bear. As pope he was the bishop of Rome, the head of a tiny country, and spiritual shepherd to a billion people.

'[I]n 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 barque 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he continued in his statement.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, told reporters there was no specific health crisis or disease that forced the pope to make the decision at this time.

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“The basic take is he is stable and could have gone on at a lower level for some time,” said John Allen, CNN's senior Vatican analyst. Allen pointed out there were no recent hospitalizations or public falls, and the pope likely "decided rather that he would pull the plug now instead of waiting for disaster.”

“Timing is the big shock. We simply had no indication this was coming," Allen said. "The Vatican quite honestly leaks like a sieve. There was no hint this was coming down the pike.”

At 78 when he became pope, he was not a young man and said at the time that he anticipated his papacy would be short.

Before becoming the pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had a quiet retirement in mind. He was serving Pope John Paul II as the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, the doctrinal watchdog for the church once called the Inquisition.

In that role, Benedict worked beside Pope John Paul II and watched up close as Parkinson's disease slowly ravaged his predecessor.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Ratzinger was just two years from a forced retirement as a cardinal.

When he was elected by the College of Cardinals to be pope, he joined a line of men that stretched 2,000 years from Jesus' disciple Peter to today.

What is known about the pope’s medical history is scant: In 1991 he had a brain hemorrhage, but that did not prevent him from continuing his career. And in 2009 a fall led to a broken wrist. So his decision to leave his post while showing little sign of any ailment has opened the door to speculation.

"The sad suspicion is his mind is going," said Michael Sean Winters, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America and a blogger for Distinctly Catholic at the National Catholic Reporter.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said he thought the pope looked "frail" when he was in Cuba earlier this year. He walks with a cane and often could be seen struggling to move around the altar as he celebrated Mass.

“At 85 years old, in your 86th year, I think you’re entitled to walk with a cane," Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., said at a news conference. He was at the Vatican with the pope for much of October for a synod meeting. "He seemed not only very alert but full of energy,” Wuerl said.

"He presided at meeting after meeting after meeting, there was no doubt he was in full possession of his faculties. He would give talks to us without notes in front of him. I am younger than the pope and I wouldn’t have begun my remarks without notes," Wuerl said. "He had no problem at all speaking with great clarity.”

Allen, who was at an event with the pope with a visiting dignitary, recently said, “He was all there mentally.”

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Even if his mind remains sharp, the office brings with it a schedule that would exhaust men a quarter of the pope's age.

There are endless meetings at the Vatican with clergy, diplomats and heads of state. This year he completed hour-long meetings with every bishop in the United States, according to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois.

“It’s a grueling and demanding schedule to keep up with,” Paprocki said.

As the pope, “there’s an expectation you’re going to be doing trans-Atlantic flights and his doctors have warned him against it the whole time," Winters said.

Last year alone the pope traveled to Mexico, Cuba, and Lebanon.

While the most plausible explanation for his resignation seems to be the most benign, there are other elements of scandal and mismanagement at the Vatican that may have also played a role.

“No one is going to say this was a well-managed papacy,” Winters said.

There were scandals that rocked both the church as a whole and the tightly knit community in Vatican City.

The child sex abuse scandal continued to plague the church globally even as strict reforms were put in place. A visible sign of the scandal at the coming conclave to select a new pope will be Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, who was stripped of his public and administrative duties this month by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, for his role in covering up a child sex abuse scandal. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles confirmed Mahoney will be attending the conclave.

Inside the walled compound of the Vatican City, the Vatican Bank is being investigated for noncompliance with European money laundering protections. The head of the bank left in disgrace.

The pope saw his own butler betray him by stealing documents from his desk and passing them to journalists, and internal battles erupt over alleged mismanagement.

On Sunday, the pope tweeted, "We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new."

The mention of personal sin was not out of character with the Christian belief outlined in Paul's letter to the Romans that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

In his statement Monday he again turned to flaws, saying, "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."

Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he expects a new pope will be in place in time for Easter.

The pope gave little indication of what his future might hold, where he would live and what life for a former pope might entail. He concluded his statement by saying, "I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

Full Coverage: The pope resigns

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

soundoff (1,015 Responses)
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    November 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  2. Ugg Black Friday 2013 Sale

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    November 25, 2013 at 4:53 am |
  3. A son of God

    ALL Catholics are in HELL or on their way to HELL.

    Jesus told them in Matthew 23:9 "Do not call ANYONE on earth your father for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

    Pope means father in English but the Catholics say 'SCRU U JESUS, I'll call anyone that I want to call father 'father'.

    June 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  4. Tina

    People couldn't it be he is just tired of it all...??? Just plain fed up sick and tired of everything, all of it, over it, just wants to retire and water the daisies...!

    March 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Strange that god didn't foresee that and choose someone else in the first place.

      March 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  5. John Patrick Grace

    People who live without God often find a need to vent against, of all things, God and religion. The venting itself would seem superfluous, unless underneath it all, they suspected they just might be wrong. And death would bring them face to face with, the very loving and almighty God they had spent so much energy denying.
    And then what's there to say? Duh, geez...if only I had known....!!!
    That Christianity has been run for centuries by both saints and sinners is hardly a revelation. For every Mother Teresa and the immense good that she has done there is either a fraud or a hypocrite or a molester. It's been this way for centuries. No surprise that it all continues thus, the wheat and the chaff.
    Ratzinger might have been more chaff in his Hitler youth days, but as pope he certainly turned into something more akin to wheat, though Jeff Anderson might argue with that.
    What we hope now is that the next pope will have more kinship to Mother Teresa than to the cover-up bishops.
    And may even restore some folks' faith in God and in the church.

    John Patrick Grace
    Huntington, West Virginia

    March 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Anyone taking Rat and Theresa as examples of good people are either lying, or not paying any attention whatsoever.

      March 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  6. hey hey

    I can't believe what I'm reading.. So many people believe what they see on tv.. So many blind people here,wake up. Look into the mans eyes and you can see evil. The man held cover molestation.. He's stepping down because of old age? Are you serious. Tis isn't a construction job, or customer service job. You are the Fn pope for cring out loud. You don't step down. Tis should be a sign to all you religious freaks.. If you believe in the end of times and believe satan is real, then why would it be hard for you to believe the one place you wouldn't expect him to be is exactly where he has infiltrated.. Only lucifer would prance around with diamond encrusted hats and a staff.. It's a joke. Jesus would never live in a damn palace,he would live in a shack lol.. The very idea of all this goes against the word of Christ

    February 28, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • ady

      well said.

      March 3, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Rosanne H

      Me thinks the late Pope smells a Rat(zinger) and is getting out of Dodge while the getting is good. I understand upon his resignation, he will not be liable and cannot be prosecuted (check it out guys, think it's legit). With all the buzz about scandals looming on the homefront, it would be best to take the first hellcoptor ride out to a lovely vacation villa, wouldn't ya think? I would give up my red velvet slippers for that and some peace and quiet wouldn't you?

      March 5, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  7. God helpus all

    It isn’t so much a matter of the coming of the end of time, but the coming of the end of the Catholic Church. What a shameful compromised bunch of hypocrites. Even the Pope couldn't tolerate the reality of Catholicism any longer.
    Is it that difficult to work out that a vow of celibacy will not only attract paedophiles to the church, but also create them? It upsets me that Catholicism has a shred of credibility even today, and I look forward to the total demolition of their culture and presence on this planet.

    February 28, 2013 at 4:58 am |
    • Linda

      Such intense hate filled words. God Bless you.

      March 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  8. Dave77

    My personal theory – the pope knows that Jesus will be returning soon and is afraid that Jesus will chastise him for being such a narrow minded jerk. See christmaitreya.org.

    February 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  9. J

    The real reason the Pope resigned... Child torture, Child Trafficking, and Genocide not only linked directly to him but to other Vatican officials. This sicko is now seeking immunity from the Italian government. Why not report the REAL news CNN?
    http://beforeitsnews.com/scandals/2013/02/breaking-news-february-14-2013-pope-benedict-to-seek-immunity-2430850.html

    February 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • T.Garner

      We call upon all citizens and governments to assist our efforts to legally and directly disestablish the Vatican, Inc. and arrest its chief officers and clergy who are complicit in crimes against humanity and the ongoing criminal conspiracy to aid and protect child torture and trafficking.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  10. ann

    I just want to say 85 the man is 85.If he has any other reason 85 is enough. I mean I'm 27 and I live only 25 mins from my job and I travel with my job through out the year and I get tired. Can you just imagine at 85 what it feels like to jump from place to place.If the man has some secrets oh well who doesn't have any bye the time once again age 85. I mean if the Pope wants to retire I say pull out some party hats and a gold watch or whatever else you give to a Pope that retires. Have people ever thought that maybe just maybe the Pope wants some peace. I mean can you imagine just 1 person listing to half of the worlds problems and on top of that they expect that 1 person to know the answer I mean my God the poor man is probably beyond exhausted. I get tired just listing to my siblings complaints and that's not heavy stuff I mean the Pope is face with stuff like world hunger and answering the never ending question why. I say if you get to live to see 85 you deserve to lay out in some sun and fish and do whatever else people at 85 like to do to relax. So I stand up and I clap my hands and say job well done.

    February 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • God helpus all

      Yes Ann, but was he more effective in the elimination or the perpetration of the greatest crime of all? I say the latter and I say you are brainwashed as evidenced by the fact that you did not raise the matter even as background to your hand clapping.

      February 28, 2013 at 5:15 am |
  11. Joe Conrad

    The new book Edelweiss Pirates published 4 weeks ago broke the news and gave some disturbing facts about the pope and his involvement with the Nazi’s. The pope lived with his family in Traunstein, Germany, a small and staunchly Catholic town between Munich and Salzburg. During World War I there was a prisoner-of-war camp located here where, ironically, Adolf Hitler worked between December 1918 and March 1919. The town is located near the region of Austria which Hitler came from. A few hundred yards away from the Popes' house, a family hid Hans Braxenthaler, a local resistance fighter who shot himself rather than be captured again. The SS regularly searched local homes for resistance members.
    Although it is unknown who turned him in to the SS, it is believed it was the Pope, who later became a proud member of the Hitler Youth. It has now come out what his involvement was, published in the young adult novel ‘Edelweiss Pirates Operation Einstein’ the fictional story mixes factual evidence with fiction to make it easy reading and an adventure book for it’s target audience of boys 11-15. However the findings of the author Mark A. Cooper, from his research and interviews from families in the region have shed a new light the the Catholic Church would like to have kept hidden, now it’s on Amazon and Kindle, the church is scrambling to hide the facts.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  12. sureitsreal

    He's resigning because it has been uncovered that he was the second gunman in Dallas that shot Kennedy. Later, he was seen planting explosives in the World Trade Center. And, in Latin, he announced infallibly the we never went to the Moon.

    February 14, 2013 at 7:06 am |
    • T.Garner

      We call upon all citizens and governments to assist our efforts to legally and directly disestablish the Vatican, Inc. and arrest its chief officers and clergy who are complicit in crimes against humanity and the ongoing criminal conspiracy to aid and protect child torture and trafficking. He is seeking immunity and protection from the Italian gov.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  13. Jason Marcel (@moviejay)

    I find it hilarious how many westerners and white people follow this bogus religion. Their bible was written by people who if we saw their photos today, would look like the terrorist types we don't even like. These backwards sand dwellers continue to live over there in a part of the world that we kind of laugh at for how stubborn they are at remaining like cavemen, but every Sunday our old white people get on their knees and pledge allegiance to old folklore. If the story of Noah was a kid's story and Jack and the Bean Stalk were in the bible, these morons would take it to be true.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:15 am |
    • sureitsreal

      Based on your finely reasoned statement, I'm sure I will now give up my belief. Look up the words "symbolism" and "allegory" versus the word 'literal" and maybe the light will turn on in your dim wit.

      February 14, 2013 at 7:02 am |
    • faris

      Can i know whats ur religion first so i can reply to you ???

      February 17, 2013 at 12:46 am |
  14. Max

    I am sure that absolutely nothing will change in our lives because of this. In fact, it has no relevance whatsoever.
    The Middle Ages are long gone and the church`s strength went down with it...( Thank God ! )

    February 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  15. Mose Deph

    Because Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone is 79 and this will be his last electable year for consideration as Pope, as he becomes 80 in December of this year.

    February 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Yeah

      So it's going to be a group of corpese electing a corpse?

      February 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  16. Serge Crespy

    Is the above picture of the Pope staged? ..... No Papal ring on right hand.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Must be a conspiracy

      Why would anyone bother staging a picture of the pope when there are thousands upon thousands of stock photos of him available for almost nothing?

      February 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Serge Crespy

      Reply to 'Must be a Conspiracy": As all pictures are unique, the picture's user would be infringing on Copyright Laws, therefore, by erasing the Pope's ring, the user creates a technicality ( A CONSPIRACY?) .... Reality is the sum total of all speculation!

      February 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  17. Serge Crespy

    There is construction underway on Vatican grounds; a cloister to house Pope Bededict XVI during retirement. Is a bunker being included in the improvements?... Should there be an unexpected detonation of a dirty bomb, in ROME (GOD Forbid!), a 'back-up', previously ordained Pope could immediately re-fill the Papacy; otherwise, a shortage of Cardinals, during an unimaginable, chaotic period, would temporarily leave the Church without its leader.

    February 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Good grief. What is it about this story that brings out the conspiracy theorists and prophecy believers ?

      February 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  18. IsalandAtheist

    Twitter made him an atheist.

    February 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  19. Lou

    Why don't the churches like LDS and Catholic pick younger leaders to begin with? They always pick men, who in any other profession, would have been long retired. They keep their churches in the days of ancient history with no regard for an ever changing world and it's new problems and concerns. There is no means to deal with too many people in the world and loving people who happen to be gay. Real religion loves all God's creations. These two religions need a major overhaul and it needs to start from the top with younger leadership that realizes the problems of today's world.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Mose Deph

      Real religion by your definition sounds a lot like some new age mumbo-jumbo, where the prohibitions of scripture is for naught. A replacement theology where the individual gets to fashion their own belief system. Real religion does in fact 'love all of GOD's creations', as it teaches to hate the sin – and not the sinner. I refer to Matthew 5:43-47 as you mention Catholicism and LDS. And real religion also teaches – it's not within man's providence to punish or judge who may be wayward . So I offer regardless the new fashion of today, wrong today is as relevant as it was in the past, but as fore-stated so is the manner in which we are to react. ... (jus another man's view) Good luck in your journey!

      February 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • T.Garner

      We call upon all citizens and governments to assist our efforts to legally and directly disestablish the Vatican, Inc. and arrest its chief officers and clergy who are complicit in crimes against humanity and the ongoing criminal conspiracy to aid and protect child torture and trafficking.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Tina

      Because Lou...With age comes knowledge and a peaceful respect and perspective on things and it takes a lifetime to learn these things a person would need to learn in order to be in his position, young men are good for warring and bravado because they jump in before thinking ect...

      March 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Tina

      Also to T. Garner...The world would be in prison...!

      March 12, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  20. LAST DAY

    Pope, and all his flock,

    What Jesus told here (=John 6/27) has already thus come TRUE now!
    So please, take courage and absolutely SEE this here now:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    February 13, 2013 at 6:24 am |
    • Science

      Pope, and all his flock,

      Adan and Eve Talking snake donkey too.

      Does it work ?

      February 13, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • lol??

      "Sorry! The word "donkey" doesn't occur in the KJV." God failed??

      February 13, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      john 6/27 says something about food and a seal....does this mean we are supposed to eat seals?

      February 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.