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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)
  1. Vatican Ratline

    His clown costume puts John Wayne Gacy's to shame.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  2. darrell

    At least he gave 2 weeks notice :)

    February 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  3. PJ

    He protected and rewarded Bernard Law of Boston who covered up for so many child molestors. He also protected The Legion of Christ Order the Founder of which was the greatest Pedophile in the 20th century. The Legion fo Christ should have been disbanded and/or merged with a more respectable Order.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  4. dalewalk

    The Catholics are as dumb as the American voters. Why would they put him in as Pope at the age of 78? This isn't exactly the job for a someone slow and one foot in the grave.

    Did you know that we currently have 40 congressmen serving who are OVER 90 years old? And there are over 60 who are between 85 and 90!! And we wonder why the system is broken? Wake up America!

    February 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      I hear some folks trying to say he is retiring because he doesn't want his age to be a factor. This is complete horseshit. Bishops are asked to retire at 75 and he didn't even get the Pope job until after that. If he was concerned about age he wouldn't have taken the job to begin with.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Sane Person

    Do you have any idea how much energy and concentration it tales to cover up that much crap? Of course he is exhausted! The next pop should probably be a team of lawyers. Or a large Wall Street Bank.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  6. Vatican Ratline

    Maybe he can spend the rest of his days in South America. They're fond of Nazis.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  7. Larry Mandrell

    I think this decent man is afraid he may make a decision that would not be in the best interests of the Body Of Christ!

    February 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  8. pedobear

    A new series of "To Catch a Predator" came back and he was one of the Johns that got caught

    February 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  9. Charles Gannon

    If he lost about 30 lbs of his regelia he could probaly walk without a cane

    February 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  10. Susan

    The Pope is leaving now because he realizes how the Church has been duping humanity for thousands of years along with other religions that up to now have spun such a fantasy out of reality. We all need a belief structure though and I highly recommend what the universe offers us. Totally impartial over everything except for the atom which apparently cannot be destroyed... Chock full of the unknown and impossible... It could unite countries and races rather then constantly tearing us all apart.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  11. Be cool

    Give the man a break! As soon as he found out that his priests were raping young boys he had the decency to move them to another church.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  12. Viper

    Why could the Pope of quit?

    Is he going to try to be Sarah Palin's running mate in 2016?

    Is he gay himself, and just realized it?

    Is he guilty about his doctrine helping to spread AIDS through misinformation about condoms?

    Maybe he finally ran out of places to hide all of the pedophiles.

    Maybe he is ready to admit that the Jews really didn't kill Jesus.

    Maybe he's planning to convert to Islam, so that when he dies, he can get 72 virgins?

    Or he could be retiring in protest. Maybe he wanted a gold and diamond "HoverRound" and the cardinals wouldn't get him one.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  13. katlik

    Probably some mega huge scandal about to break, and he's ducking. There is potential for trouble all over for that church and it has been increasingly hard for them to hide their dirt. Starting with one of his relatives is a known pedophile

    February 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Sheila

    In two weeks, everyone will know why. The Pope is not being truthful and forthright. Again. He knew everything that went on with the pedophile priests. He knew everything. I can't even walk into the church of my religion anymore.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Saraswati

      For goodness sake, he's 85, what do you folks think is the most likely issue?!?!?!?! I really am reminded that half the people on here are in their teens or 20s and so far away from aging they haven't a clue.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • ;p;

      JP II could barely speak or walk and he kept at it, up until he died. Not sure why it's ok for this guy to be tired and old.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Sane Person

      Dont give me that "he is 85" nonsense. Popes are expected by the church to serve until death. Few are depose, and very very few "resign".

      February 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • gardengirl

      We already know that he knew. This isn't news and it isn't gong to stop the church from continuing. I don't get why anyone would stay in the religion knowing this but people will. The church will continue. The ped ophiles will continue to abuse children. It's very sad IMO.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Few, right...and that would be because what...popes are immune from the normal aging process that leaves most people with diagnosable dementia by age 85?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  15. John

    The Prophecy of the Popes, attributed to Saint Malachy, is a list of 112 short phrases in Latin. They purport to describe each of the Roman Catholic popes (along with a few anti-popes), beginning with Pope Celestine II (elected in 1143) and concluding with current pope Benedict XVI's successor, a pope described in the prophecy as "Peter the Roman", whose pontificate will end in the destruction of the city of Rome. Watch the video "The next Pope"on youtube. It has 16 parts but itis very good. It answers your questions.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  16. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    Lesson for hindus ignorant follower of hindu racist Mithra sim savior ism, Christianity, Pope is just another human, dependent on truth absolute to be, not a god, as they hind believe him to be their god. He was borne one day with will of of truth absolute GOD and he will die one day, with will of truth absolute GOD. He never had any power of his own and never will have any power of his own, just as another human being.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • sam

      No thanks, Mohammad. Here's something for you, though:

      ....................../´¯/)
      ....................,/¯../
      .................../..../
      ............./´¯/'...'/´¯¯`•¸
      ........../'/.../..../......./¨¯\
      ........('(...´...´.... ¯~/'...')
      .........\.................'...../
      .........."...\.......... _.•´
      ............\..............(
      ..............\.............\...

      February 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Vatican Ratline

      Pretty cool, Sam. Now can you draw one of a Catholic priest sodomizing a defenseless child?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • sam

      Nah, I haven't been able to find that one yet. I'm sure it's out there, though.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      8==> (_!_)

      February 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  17. paula

    Atleast a "Wise Man" knows when enough is enough...To bad there weren't more like him. ~ Way to go Pope ~

    February 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • End Religion

      There have been more like him, devastating generations of children.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Brampt

    That was actually a smart move from Ratzinger, there a lot of bad things heading that way, so before he gets all his riches sacked and eventually spend his days in prison for crimes against humanity, him and all of them... So I think it was smart.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  19. RichardSRussell

    If we had to rely on the US Senate to confirm his successor, the papacy would probably still be vacant 5 years from now.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  20. Selendis

    This is such a strange moment for me. I am catholic, because I was raised catholic, from a very long line of catholics. Yet, honestly an agnostic. Pope John Paul II had been the pope most of my life and Ratzinger seemed too much of a "reformer" to me. But with all the scares of him dragging the faith back to the middle ages, it never seemed to have happened. Now there will be another pope, and I am glad that I don't follow the faith. Maybe because of my lack of faith in general, but I just don't believe in this day and age the catholic church will ever again have a true leader. or that it should even.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:40 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.