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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. Logic N LA

    There may be a new scandal getting ready to hit the Vatican and like all the others invloved in scandals, he's running away before it implicates him while in office.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Pope Benedict XVI

    The reason I resigned was that I woke up one morning and realized it was all bullshit.

    And I got sick of wearing dresses and silly hats.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Johnny Lim

    Blame it on the ILLUMINATI !!!!

    Coup d' Etat within inner circle did it for the Pope.

    Being sick is a smokescreen.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  4. ronjayaz

    "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. OMG corruption in the Vatican, too?
    What's the world coming to?

    February 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  5. blayzekohime

    And I said he'd never do anything decent; guess I was proven wrong.
    I hope his replacement will put a leash on all their crazy priests.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  6. Lizzy10

    Maybe it's because of what he said. Good luck to him and good luck to all Catholic Christians, hopefully the next Pope will be willing to step into the 21 century.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  7. Phillip

    Why did the Pope resign?

    Turns out he got caught trolling the CNN Belief Board posting as "Chuckles" on a Vatican computer, a violation of the terms of service.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Hitman

      He needs some nookie?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  8. End Religion

    I heard part of an NPR interview today where, paraphrasing, the interviewed apologist said, "You have to realize when the Pope gets up in the morning he has a prayer with many other people, he has to travel all over the world. These meetings, the traveling, it can be a really tough day. This is real suffering a Pope has to endure."

    I couldn't stop laughing for so long my lunch cooled down...

    February 11, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • sam

      LOL

      February 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @End Religion -

      What? You don't think those vestments chafe? Now that's suffering!

      February 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  9. SMOKEUMUP

    Turns out he parties too hard and Motorhead wants him and his cronies off the tour. Booya!

    February 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  10. Hitman

    Pedophiles, gays and Obama!

    February 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Logic N LA

      you left off idiots that go by "hitman"

      February 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Vatican Ratline

      These are a few of your favorite things?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  11. Be cool

    Here in Los Angeles Cardinal Mahoney said he refused to turn in the pedophile priests to authorities because the LAPD is way too corrupt.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Yeah

      I saw he also failed to turn over court-ordered records recently too.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  12. Danko Ramone

    Other than it being a rarity in a historical sense, I don't see why this is a big deal. People age. If the Pope feels, for whatever reason, he can't do his job at the high level his position clearly demands, retiring is the right thing to do.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Sky

      I suppose it's funny in the sense that being old is all but a job requirement. So the guy who got the job in no small part by being up in years says he's too old to do it anymore, something that there is no very recent precedent for in history. I suppose some might think it makes him look bad that John Paul Jr. lasted as long as he did and kept the position until the end, whereas Benedict is stepping down for what will probably not be any better qualify of life than he experienced as the Pope (maybe people won't bother him as much to listen to their crap, but I would imagine that you lose that sweet Pope Health Plan when you step down). Then again, I don't know if they've made contingencies for this in recent times. Back in the old days, if you were the pope and stepped down, your sphere of influence, the reach of your voice, was highly limited. Today, it would be easy to have the old pope constantly weighing in, in public, on what the new pope is doing. That would be bad for the whole "This man is perfect, do not question him" thing.

      We'll see how it goes.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  13. Brampt

    He's leaving? Well he probably knows what's coming there way.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  14. IMATHEFREAKINPOPE

    It's cause Peter Griffin stole his Popemobile
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYB_3qTnwWc&w=640&h=390]

    February 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  15. kalo

    He is quitting because of all the child molestations. Another dark chapter in Catholic history...to go with the other one, and the other one, and the other one....

    February 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  16. Chan

    2 words... "St. Malachy"

    February 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • midwest rail

      One word – nonsense.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  17. West Hubbard

    His boss never showed up...

    February 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  18. RichardSRussell

    People claim that the Catholic Church is all better now that it's no longer abetting the Holocaust or conducting its own horrors, like the Crusades, the Inquisition, or anti-scientific persecutions (Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, etc.). But really, it's just turned its proclivity for evil in different directions:
     • buying and selling babies in Spain
     • peonage labor of orphan girls in Ireland
     • spreading AIDS in Africa
     • encouraging poverty thru breeding in Latin America
     • systematic misogyny around the globe
     • corrupt practices at the Vatican Bank
     • and of course the horrific pedophilia scandals in the US and elsewhere

    Frankly, it's inadequate penance for only the pope to resign. They ALL should.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Church Lady

    Isn't that special. I wonder who gave the Pope the idea to quit? Could it be SATAN?

    February 11, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Zingo

      Just because he dresses in red and looks like a vampire, that doesn't necessarily mean he is a minion of Satan.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  20. Akira

    I still think Twitter was his breaking point...

    February 11, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • sam

      I agree. Took the will right out of him.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • historicalhusky2014

      Tweeting is exhausting at any age!

      February 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • End Religion

      When he realized he had to try to type on an iPad with his arthritic, palsied claws he quickly came to the conclusion, "fuck this!" Although he probably had some altar boys hanging around to type for him, in between "tension massages" and pouring wine and feeding him gr@pes.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:08 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.