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)
  1. reality check

    Q. So, what will you do, now, Cardinal Ratzinger?
    A. "I'm going to Disneyland."

    February 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • ;p;

      Printed on the inside of his robes is 'must be this tall to ride this ride'.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  2. Saraswati

    In the US half the population over half the population will have diagnosable dementia by age 85, and the vast majority of the remaining population will suffer from some measurable level of cognitive impairment by that time. The story is very similar in the rest of the world, and for many, the early effects impact abilities much younger. It's great that we've combated ageism in the workplace and certainly worth fighting to keep people fairly employed as long as possible, but we've taken this blind eye to a point where some very real changes cannot even be discussed.

    We see the same silence every time there's an election in which older candidates are running. If you raise this issue with your family, friends or (if you dare risk lawsuits) your coworkers you'll find the vast majority in denial about the impacts of aging. So this move is good, not only for the Catholic church, as a chance to move on, but for all of us, as a way to open communication about the very real and difficult truths about aging. Far too many people close their eyes in the face of the hardships of both the aging of parents and of themselves, leaving loved ones to clean up the mess when it’s too late. The pope deserves credit for not taking this to a point that those depending on him would suffer.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  3. happigurl70

    The bigger question is "who cares"? Organized religion has done more destruction to humankind than anything else. Maybe he finally realized what a bunch of propaganda crap it is and smartened up. He said "screw this. I'm outta here!" Good for him.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Steve

      And the big answer is 1.2 billion people care

      February 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Jim

      Organized religion? Atheists like Stalin and Mao killed about 100 million between the two of them in less than 50 years, the church and the rest of "organized religion" can't even come close to that during their entire histories. Get your history straight please.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Tides go in, Tides go out..you cant explain it...B. O'Really

      ....here we go again .... Atheism does not kill people..... Stalin, Mao. Pol Pot ect. killed to secure power.... no because people believed in one god or another.

      In contrast: the various Inquisitions carried out by Religions were designed from the start to kill people who did nt belive in god, or their specific brand of god.... your god isnt real yet hundreds of millions have paid with their lives...all for NOTHING.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Vatican Ratline

      Stalin once studied to be a priest.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • John

      Tides, that can easily be turned around. Religion does not kill people, power hungry people do.
      That is more or less your response on behalf of Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot

      February 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  4. PJ

    He spent his life polticing for this job and the only way he could be remembered in history is to resign while still in office. I am glad to see him go!!

    February 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  5. Clown

    Sounds like the Pope is taking a page from half term Governor Sara Palins book.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  6. NotChristian ThankGod

    Food for thought: Hitler was Catholic too.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Andrew C.

      To associate Hitler with any religion is an insult to that religion. Given his anti-religious disposition and complete disregard for human life, I don't think he could have ever passed as a follower of any religion during his adult life. I fail to understand how that bit of information has anything to do with this article. You sir are a troll. Please go get a job.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  7. aceblazin0555

    OMG! Does he have like...super-powers? Does he really talk to GOD? Whoa... That's awesome....

    February 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  8. Monica

    If Cardinal Mahoney were half as dedicated to the Church as our Holy Father, he would know that ii is also time to step down..for the good of his people. Shame on Mahoney for using this opportunity to prey on the resources of the struggling Los Angeles Archdiosis to fund his trip and further embarrass us in front of the whole world.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  9. Angie

    Could the reason other than age that the pope is resigning.perhaps he knows something we should know only time will tell

    February 11, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • ;p;

      He found out the end is coming.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  10. Matthew Kilburn

    Why? Because, having decided he is no longer physically up to the challenge, the Lenten season seemed like not a bad time to step aside. There is no off season in the Papacy, he can't simply wait until the playoffs are over to announce he doesn't want to be re-signed. Remember, this is around the time he became pope back in 2005. Perhaps, were it not for the Easter season, he would have made it eight complete years.

    But the Papacy is now an incredibly demanding job, and he simply does not feel that he has the energy or health to continue on. There is a World Youth Day coming up, and a planned pilgrimage by the Pope to Latin America and Brazil in the near future. This is actually a fairly logical time for a new Pope to meet the faithful.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • twalk

      spin, spin, spin.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  11. In the middle somewhere

    Lets count how many people have been killed in the name of god throughout the years! Those with faith or those without.. for me, Im in the middle. Raised in the Christian faith I still repect it. However, the older I get the more I see the reality of all things in front of my eyes and buried within the silver lining. I do not choose to practice any religion as I find it to be an absolut waist of time. Mankind has been creating idols and gods since we were walking upright (scientific fact). I have no issue with religious beleifs as long as they are not forced on me or those who do not wish to hear it. That said, the individual is free to practice whatever beliefs they want, such is the way of America. For all of you mindlessly bickering back and forth "For those who are without sin, let him cast the first stone".

    February 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  12. Matthew (irony!)

    You know I'm not religious or spiritual in any way, but I have to point out a problem I have. Why if we ask religious believers not to persecute us for not believing. Do we feel the need to persecute them? I don't believe in God. But that's my choice and my belief. I don't want to force my beliefs on them anymore than I want to have theirs forced on me. One last thing I have to point out and you can see plenty of examples in this comment section is: Why do so many people who claim not to believe, seem so angry at "God"? I don't believe and I don't hate. Why would I hate something I don't believe in?

    February 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • ;p;

      Can't be mad at something that doesn't exist. More often than not it's people getting annoyed with the 'believers' going on about sin and whatnot.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      From a believers perspective, there is such a thing as a conscience, an inner voice. This inner voice often convicts us and tells us that which we vociferously deny, that we are sinners. Denial creates a lot of tension and defensiveness which is then lashed out on anyone delivering a message that calls one to repentance. After all, I like my favorite sins, don't you?

      February 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Daws

      Perhaps it could be said that we don't hate the beliefs specifically but rather the methods by which people come to them, ie like unquestioning adherence to authority and other fallacies?

      February 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • h

      I do beleive in God but I am not angry with those that do not.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Like everything, it's the vocal ones you see. So, some vocal angry atheists, some with valid complaints, but too 'on tilt' to speak comprehensibly, some silly teens posing as anything that makes them feel superior – and some vocal superior christian types, some with heartfelt beliefs, but too 'on tilt' to reasonably consider that other people deserve compassion, and some silly teens posing as anything that makes them feel superior.

      That's much of what you'll see. You have to recognize it for what it is – emotion and just a phase – and skim out the people you consider worth reading.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  13. truth be told

    May the grace and dignity of his high office and long life stand as a testimony to his work. I admire the man being compassionate and wise enough to hand his office to a successor rather than allowing the church to wait for his final promotion.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • twalk

      Catholics act like the pope is God himself.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • End Religion

      tbt is suggesting that defending pedophiles can be dignified... lol

      February 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Really-O?

      I have little evidence upon which this is based, but it seems to me the coward just wants to get the hell out of Dodge.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  14. Louisa

    That which can be shaken will be shaken.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  15. Pete/Ark

    so glad I sent him that Kenny Rogers CD...musta liked "The Gambler"...

    February 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  16. Jason

    Dave Green,

    Offense taken.


    February 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • ;p;

      Reply link works

      February 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  17. beezers

    We'll finally be introduced to Peter the Roman, the last pope. 🙂

    February 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • ;p;

      Good, one last one and then hopefully no more of this nonsense.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  18. Marlou Ordelt

    Don't blame the Pope..Blame the Vatican. Remember the Popes ruled the church for hundreds of years. The Vatican needs to elaborate more on the TRUTH. A big cover-up within...

    February 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  19. Riza

    I am a Catholic. And I wish him well.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  20. works for me


    February 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.