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

Why did the Pope resign?

By Eric Marrapodi CNN Belief Blog Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

“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.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Dave Green

    As far as ther pope goes. Who knows? Maybe he did resign because of age. The fact that few popes ever do, doesn't mean a whole lot. I mean, no offense to Catholics, but look at the guy. He looks like the emporer from star wars. He's decrepid! So I suppose there could be some scandal or conspiricy lurking beneath the scenes, or it could just be that the guy is as old as the crypt keeper and decided it's time to hang it up.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      Bishops usually retire before 75. Ratzinger was older than that when he became Pope. If age had anything to do with it then he wouldn't have taken office.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  2. End Religion

    Hallucinations – the person has invisible friends who (s)he insists are real, and to whom (s)he speaks daily, even though nobody can actually see or hear
    these friends.

    Delusions – the patient believes that the invisible friends have magical powers to make them rich, cure cancer, bring about world peace, and will do so eventually if asked.

    Denial/Inability to learn – though the requests for world peace remain unanswered, even after hundreds of years, the patients persist with the praying behaviour, each time expecting different results.

    Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality – the beliefs are contingent upon ancient mythology being accepted as historical fact.

    Paranoia – the belief that anyone who does not share their supernatural concept of reality is "evil," "the devil," "an agent of Satan".

    Emotional abuse – ­ religious concepts such as sin, hell, cause feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and other types of emotional "baggage" which can scar the
    psyche for life.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • True Believer

      Glad to see that you have it all figured out. Obviously only and morons fools think that the universe and life itself could consist of anything other than that which we have already seen, heard or felt. We have clearly reached the point in human history where nothing is left for humanity to discover and we therefore know how the universe and life began and why we are here. We can prove with certainty that God and Jesus Christ are just part of some ancient, elaborate, pathetic hoax. How wonderful it must feel for you to have it all figured out.

      We each choose our own fate, our own ultimate destiny, and it appears that you have chosen yours. Good night and good luck to you.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      What a pile of condescending bullshit. Did you enjoy destroying the little Straw Man you built? Pathetic.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      TB, you and your ilk are the ones who think they have it "all figured out." You're the ones who throw up your hands and cry "Gawddidit" instead of being honest and admitting that you don't know how it all occurred.

      That's the big difference between blind belief and reason.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  3. Kim Jong No-dong

    You know things are bad when the Pope quits.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  4. RichardSRussell

    Maybe he and Dubya can head on out to Crawford and clear some more brush.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  5. Heebeejeebee

    I can already hear the "Obama is behind this and will assume control as the anti-Christ" lunatics

    February 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • VanHagar

      How long have you heard these voices?

      February 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  6. Lanny Morry

    Maybe he finally realized there really is NO god, and no raison d'etre! Nice to believe in something, but what if that something is more imaginary than real??

    February 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You're not trying a reverse Pascal are you?

      February 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  7. centaur 1

    is he going to give back the Ipad that he got

    February 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • Inalig1

      They will replace it with macbook so he can learn how to code like Mayor Bloomberg

      February 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  8. Terry

    because he is old? Really? If they all used that excuse... gosh

    February 11, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Passion4christ

    Our lord will surely save his Church. God Bless you Papa..

    February 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • It's fun to use your imagination

      And our Lord will surely give everyone pop tarts.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      @Passion. The Lord has saved His church many times as He promised. He makes no such promises to nations or cultures. That's why the Church always outlasts its enemies and is there to bury them.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Mmmm...pop tarts.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • CrossCountry

      Awww...kinda sweet.

      Did someone say pop tarts?

      February 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • The high and mighty Pope Dally Lama IV

      There comes a time when the iniquities of man exceeds the good graces of God. This is one of those times.....

      February 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Jimbo

      You are correct. The Church will survive and will... wait, did somebody say PopTarts? Frosted brown sugar cinnamon, please!

      February 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      The devil's church has always been around doing evil. Like the crusades,or backing the Nazi's and raping little boys. Freemasons are devil worshipers and the church has been controlled by them ever since they lifted the ban in the mid 1800's. But don't let the facts get in the way of your beliefs.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • ;p;

      How many times does this ancient train wreck need to be saved...

      February 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  10. Ungodly Discipline

    If you consult the dictionary, here is the first definition of God that you will find:

    "A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

    Most believers would agree with this definition because they share a remarkably clear and consistent view of God. Yes, there are thousands of minor (and some major) quibbles about religion. Believers express those quibbles in dozens of denominations - Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists and all faiths. But at the heart of it all, the belief in God aligns on a set of core ideas that everyone accepts.

    What if you were to simply think about what it would mean if there were a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe? Is it possible for such a being to exist?

    Epicures thought about it in 300 BCE, and he came up with this:

    "The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so, cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are both able and willing. If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can, but will not, than they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, then they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, how does it exist?"

    In other words, if you sit and think about who God is supposed to be, you realize that such a being is impossible. Ridiculous, in fact.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      BlaBlaBla atheist propaganda BlaBlaBla

      February 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Big Shiz, what part of my post do you disagree with and why?

      February 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • December

      Can an imperfect creature be created by a perfect being? I say yes.

      Can that imperfect creature completely understand its perfect creator? I don't think so.

      Can this actually be a good thing? Can having a God that knows more than you be good?

      For me it is good. I need a God who is bigger, more nimble, and mysterious than my ability to understand God.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Dave Green

      @Big Shiz Yeah, don't bother thinking. just blow it off as atheist propaganda. It's not like the argument he is citing isn't several centuries old, or made by a well respected philosopher. heh ...Hey, whatever gets you through the day Big Shiz. However you have to hide away from reality. Seems to me though, if what he is arguing is such blah..blah..propaganda, you wouldn't have any issue exposing it. *shrug*

      February 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Shazam

      "I need a God who is bigger, more nimble, and mysterious than my ability to understand"

      That's why Superman, Spiderman, Hercules, etc. became so popular. Magical thinking.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Look,honestly I think that stuff is personal like everyones beliefs should be.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Calm down dave

      February 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • agreenplate

      If Epicurus had considered Genesis 1-3, and the God that is revealed there he would have a different set of answers to the question "who is God and what is He like?" He, along with the Greeks of his age tried to make sense of how petty, squabbling, super-hero-type gods could rule the world from Mt. Olympus, and from that starting point he reached the logical conclusion. Genesis offers the explanation that a perfect, all powerful, all loving God created the universe with physical and moral laws, and that there are consequences for breaking those moral laws. The Bible never says you have to like the idea that there are consequences for human behavior, just that you shouldn't be surprised that there is.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • nostradamuscorrection

      What you say may be true if God hadn't set out rules. God promised to each person free will. With free will comes the choices to make bad decisions. With bad decisions comes the ability to be evil. God has the power to remove evil, but he cannot without breaking his promise to us; the promise that we will each have the right to choose our own path. So, for God to intervene would be malevolent; not the other way around.

      And that goes without discussing what you deem to be evil. Humans are imperfect. Our brains are imperfect. Our thought processes are imperfect. Our morality is imperfect. With all of that said, how can we possibly claim that our judgments of what is good versus evil is perfect? The truth is, we cannot. You can live by your truths, I'll live by mine. That's the bottom line.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      December – my daughter knows less than I do. I created her. She can still ask reasonable questions of my behavior, and I should answer. Just because I know more doesn't mean that the question is not reasonable – and Epicuros's questions stand all this time because they are reasonable, and the answers are right.

      If he cannot do anything he's not god. If he knows and does nothing – then yeah, this is a problem, to watch evil and do nothing.

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


      You are not perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.

      You had a baby. You are a parent.

      Maybe he could do something, but that would be forcing obedience. And he wants to give us a choice to do good or evil. Maybe free will is more precious to him than the prevention of evil.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • adopted USA

      Hey Ungodly Discipline
      You are wasting your time with Big Shiz, I doubt if he can even comprehend what you are saying. He calling himself Big Shiz but it should be Big Shi-t

      February 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  11. It's always been Pope Machiavelli

    The power games are on at the Vatican! The hopefuls are scheming and maneuvering and doing their Jesusy power grab!

    I bet the faction that convinced him to resign already had the votes in place to seize power. In a Jesusy way, of course.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  12. MN-SNAP

    Some would argue Benedict is suitable for a millstone

    Here is a list of 174 accused Minnesota clerics – [updated]
    - http://mnsnap.wordpress.com/villainous-mn-clerics/
    - Added: - Fr. Martin A. Brady, TOR (Franciscan friar); Little Falls, MN

    February 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Big Shiz

    I swear,most people in this country are extremists. Religious or atheist pick one. And if you don't believe what they do they will tell you how evil or stupid you are. Grow up Yall,the truth is in the middle somewhere.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Nope, big shiz, the truth is not in the middle. Sorry for the inconvenience. Christians are dumby dumb dumbs.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Mirror Mirror

      So you are mad at people for not thinking like you, because they want people to think like them.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Think how you want to think as long as I can too.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Church

      Big Shiz. you will think the way you are told.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • ShizBlaster

      No, Malcom is in the middle. Truth or Consequences is a town in NM.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • Dave Green

      @Big Shiz Hmmm Interesting that you would tell us all to grow up, while you blow off a sincere point as propagnda, without so much as a reason. *shrug* Go figure.
      The truth probably IS somewhere in the middle, so then you are suggesting that there may or may not be a god? If that's ther case, welcome to atheism my friend. Because if you don't believe in any particular concept of a god, then by definition, you are an atheist! lol

      February 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • sr

      Actually the truth is not in the middle somewhere. Either there is a god or there isn't a god.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • ShizBlaster


      But which god?

      February 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • tbard

      Actually....reality is.... as you (whoever you are) believe it to be

      February 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • mon

      I agree with you entirely. What a lot of atheists these days don't realize is that they are just as intolerant, extremist and as spiteful as the blabbering evangelicals they criticize. They feel the need to preach their beliefs and put others down at the mere mention of religion. Them calling anyone spiritual "stupid" for believing in a higher power is just as hateful as evangelicals calling anyone "sinners" for not signing with their hard-right religious beliefs.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • Satan's can opener

      Stating an opinion as if it were fact does not make it so you moron. "I swear etc...." Do you have hard data to back that assertion up? Thought not. And truth? In the middle?? Truly, I despair.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Harvey Wallbanger

    Do we really need six consecutive articles on the Pope's resignation? It's not like anything actually changes at the Vatican. It's like having a new actor playing Ronald McDonald in the commercials – not any real impact on what is actually happening.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Wait. What? You mean there's more than one Ronald McDonald actor? Damn man! I'm going Burger King.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      It is time for you to start your walk with Jesus. God gave us the truth in His letter to us, the Holy Bible. Raid is just as good as hairspray and I save on food stamps. Notice who is most quoted in the Golden rule. Jesus Christ's wisdom.


      February 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Harvey Wallbanger

      IF you want to be an atheist towards clown-influenced burgers, then you can sell your soul and abandon all hope at Burger King. But you will burn forever with the fries in The Good Lord Ronalds's boiling oil.

      Our old book tells us so, so it's true. It also inerrantly prophesizes that people who laugh at our dumb-ass beliefs only prove us correct, and they will also sizzle on Ronald-God's Eternal Grill of McDoom!

      February 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Mohammad A Dar

    Why did the pope resign? He found out there was no Jesus or heaven after all.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  16. HeavenSent

    Prideful atheists, you are all fools and liars against His truth. My 12-year-old daughter got home after midnight but she had the money. Stay on the wrong side of the gulf until you are blotted out for eternity.


    February 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  17. frank

    Maybe this was the other half of a concession made to the butler . . .

    February 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Reality

    Why did the pope resign???

    Hmmm, how about the following:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, pope, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    February 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Reality...I'm curious how you come to decide which unoriginal cut and paste comment to you use each day. Dice? Darts? Pull it out of a hat? Does your cat decide for you?

      February 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Wow...what a typo...sorry all...meant to say: "cut and paste comment you PLAN to use each day."

      February 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      You and your atheist propaganda,your just as bad as any religious extremist.

      February 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • historicalhusky2014

      Who knew reality could be so out of touch with itself? Get a life and take your bigotry elsewhere– do you think your hate will fight away the hate of Christians who have lost their ways?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Reality

      As good students, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench)of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

      February 11, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  19. December


    February 11, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  20. Big Shiz

    The Catholic church is so evil.

    February 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • 6GetaClue9

      Please don't confuse Catholic religion with Christianity, they could not be farther apart. Christians follow Jesus and read the bible, while Catholics pray to Mary and are a cult out to steal your money and make you feel guilty.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • twalk

      It is a strange religion just like Mornomism.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • historicalhusky2014

      ...please don't confuse the Catholic church with all Catholics... We aren't a cult out to steal money– my church does more charity work than any other surrounding church of any other sect of Christianity. That is ridiculous.
      I can't speak for Mormonism because I honestly do not know much about it, nor does it really concern me. If you think making such general comments about cult-worship and evils is appropriate, this should not concern you either since you obviously aren't involved enough in the issues/discourse within Catholicism to have any place in commenting. A few bad seeds don't ruin an organization– if that were the case, all teachers are failing and we should cut their pay. Fighting what you assume to be bigotry and evil with bigotry and evil does not work. People like you three that decide to generalize people that associate with a church are the reason that we have such an unaccepting and messy world.
      I'm a Catholic college student, I don't hate gay people, I don't support the molestation, I know where my church spends their money (and it is very transparent), and I'm happy to be involved in the charitable work, as well as bible study where I learn from the bible– yes, the bible, the same as every other Christian should be doing– not just blindly following whatever the church happens to publicize. I'm sorry to burst your bubble but generalizations and bigotry don't work.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
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.