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

Why did the Pope resign?

By Eric Marrapodi CNN Belief Blog Editor
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(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. Cedric Vaz

    It's always global money power that controls people and more importantly our world. There seems to be an "invisible hand" (read America) that controls even the Pope and his resignation / appointment! And it is most likely the most powerful man in America and the world – the US President! Pope Benedict waited to resign until President Barrack Obama was in the saddle and in power in Feb 2013. Similarly Pope Benedict himself became Pope with the approval of President George Bush's second term appointment in Feb 2005. In all probability the Vatican and the US president are in a coalition with each other to bring about and sustain a new world order that will conform and bring stability and peace only to the Western world!

    February 12, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  2. Rev. Rick

    ENOUGH already with all the Pope articles! He is (was) an important guy, but CNN, please find something else to write about. Jeeezzzz!

    February 12, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • Science

      Headline Creation Story from Bible Does Not Work That Way !

      February 12, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • Saraswati

      Agreed! 9 of the 10 active religion posts are about the Pope, and the 10th there are related filler. The topic just isn't that interesting.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      Yep. It looks like CNN is spamming their own Belief Blog with aritcles on the Pope. Enough.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  3. Douglas

    1238 Christian Ministers Proclamation

    We declare with one, unified, voice:

    The Bible consistently tells us that ho-mo-se-xual (H) activity is a sin (Genesis 19:1-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Romans 1:26-27 teaches specifically that H is a result of denying and disobeying God. When people continue in sin and unbelief, God “gives them over” to even more wicked and depraved sin in order to show them the futility and hopelessness of life apart from God. 1 Corinthians 6:9 proclaims that H “offenders” will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    God does not create a person with H desires. The Bible tells us that people become H because of sin (Romans 1:24-27) and ultimately because of their own choice. A person may be born with a greater susceptibility to hH, just as some people are born with a tendency to violence and other sins. That does not excuse the person’s choosing to sin by giving in to sinful desires. If a person is born with a greater susceptibility to anger/rage, does that make it right for him to give into those desires? Of course not! The same is true with H.

    However, the Bible does not describe H as a “greater” sin than any other. All sin is offensive to God. H is just one of the many things listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that will keep a person from the kingdom of God. According to the Bible, God’s forgiveness is just as available to a H as it is to an adulterer, idol worshipper, murderer, thief, etc. God also promises the strength for victory over sin, including H, to all those who will believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 4:13).

    February 12, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • Free Nuts

      For dougie

      February 12, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  4. Science

    God should resign with him, that would be the best thing ever.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • God

      No can do

      February 12, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Science

      Some day will get you facts are tacts


      Another timeline go figure interactive No reply needed FACT take it up with NBC

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      Interactive timeline

      February 12, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Science

      In physical cosmology, the Planck epoch (or Planck era) is the earliest period of time in the history of the universe, from zero to approximately 10−43 seconds


      February 12, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  5. Josh

    The very fact that Cardinal Roger Mahoney will still be invited to the Conclave, sends a very strong message to Catholics, and really to the world, that the Catholic Church still looks the other way, and thus FULLY ENDORSES THE MOLESTING CHILDREN.

    What a shame that such, continues directly into the next papacy.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  6. lionel28

    I wonder why he did not go to Fatima and pray for a miracle. Would have been good way to prove to the world that all those fairy tales that they are dumping on the poor souls are true.

    February 12, 2013 at 6:51 am |
  7. ronvan

    Arguing about religion is ALWAYS interesting! For me, personally, it comes down to two words. BELEIF & FAITH! Both can be used if you are religious or atheist. ALL religions have a history of good & BAD, so why argue that point? ALL religious books, scrolls, etc. have been writen, re written, have had stories embellished, changed, ommited, by HUMANS!
    The problem I have with the RCC is that it has been scandle after scandle, and the MAIN thing they have done is to try and sweep it all under the rug! I know of NO other religion that has its OWN city, government, police force, banks, etc..? They have the BEST kept "secrets", known only to a very few!

    February 12, 2013 at 6:46 am |
  8. Kambugu Bernard

    I dont think the pope resigned because of age nooooooooooooooo dea many reasons behind this. 1st many mafia bishops exist in de vatican council, supported by bad groups(DEVIL WORSHIPERS) in America, Britain etc 2 ruin de Roman Catholic Church. It was prophesised of de forth coming Anti-Christ Pope he wil ruin de catholic church. I have a feeling de Illuminati have something to do with this en i might be true.

    February 12, 2013 at 4:35 am |
    • sam stone

      yes, i am sure it was all a conspiracy

      February 12, 2013 at 5:34 am |
  9. badbreaths

    what's the matter with people these days? what's to you if he wants to resign. he's tired and old. stop throwing your sick thoughts about the guy. Anyway, what have you done or whatever you represent ? the church was never perfect because it is made up of people, just the the bad mouths scattered all over the world.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:31 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "the church was never perfect because it is made up of people"

      Except the people running the church claim to be closer to god than the regular people. They claim to have a direct line to the morality of that god and yet they act in a no more moral fashion than other people, and in many cases actually act worse. This Pope can quit if he wants, I don't begrudge him that, I have a problem with the fact that he is a sanctimonious, self rightous asshat.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:58 am |
    • ..

      I represent the Teamsters 705. Fear me.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • Saraswati

      Agreed. I'm not a Catholic or even a Christian and I'm sick to death of hearing all these silly theories about why this guy resigned. How many people do these folks know working a demanding job (or any job!) at 85? Sure we can pick a few extreme examples, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Aging is hard, and around age 70 both physical and mental capacities, on average, drop rapidly. I think it's a sign of slow moving progress for the leader of the Catholic church to make such a move. Previous popes weren't faced with video cameras in every cell phone and weren't surrounded by doctores with standardized cognitive tests. It's a new world, and the church should be given credit when they recognize this.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  10. rusty

    I figure that there is a smoking gun. What with the problems in Ireland, the US and the Popes' own country of Germany, the paper trail of coverup of pedophiles is slowing climbing into the Popes arena, Now is an excellent time to run away and abruptly. Before it is traced to the top when he was the archbishop and cardinal in Germany.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • petruski

      The Catholic church as lately shown itself to be morally corrupt in its mistreatment of children, its stand on contraception and its insistence on male privilege and domination. This pope has been deeply involved with all three. It surely is time for him to step aside.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      It has already been tracked to this pope.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:26 am |
    • sam stone

      As of lately?

      February 12, 2013 at 5:35 am |
  11. Odin

    Bah. Quitter...

    February 12, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  12. Beau

    Giving up the papacy for Lent seems a little extreme

    February 12, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • ..

      Now that's funny, I don't care who you are.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:53 am |
  13. 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 11:48 pm |
  14. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    A song in honor of the pope. Warning NSFW. Copy the link.


    February 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
    • End Religion

      funny, with an uplifting spiritual theme! May god bless you in every orifice.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  15. Kim Kowalczyk

    The last pope to step down before his death was Gregory XII, in 1415 almost 600 years ago. He quit to end a civil war within the church because more than one man claimed to be pope. The last Pope was old, served for over 25 years, was sick near the end and they even shot him a few times too and he didn't quit. No this one thinks he can't take it because of his age & health? There has to be more here than meets the eye in my opinion..

    February 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
    • Johnny Guitar

      He's controlling who the next pope will be. He has stacked the College of Cardianals, and as pope his opinion will have massive weight in their byzantine political process. He is putting in a hard liner. He already knows who it is, and has ensured he determines the outcome.

      Because he doesn't trust God to do the right thing.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • kevin marron

      see if you or the media would even bother to look at last year when he had trouble filling many holy day and lenten duties you'd understand.Some christians might getOne chance in thier lives to attend a holy week mass or the kwashing of the feet etc,and midnight mass? If he can't handle he should step aside.he was supposed to be a shorter reign anyway .The church symbols and rituals DO have meaning to believers .A man's ego shouldn't cheat them out of that.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  16. Tired of the BS

    interestingly enough, I think he resigns so he can still control who is going to be the next pope. Politics are crazy among these power-obsesed cardinals, and I have no doubts that it will all be carefully tailored so the next one is also super radical in his "conservative" views. I hope to God that I'm wrong. the RCC deserved better.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  17. Douglas

    I see fornicators everywhere. They do not even know they are fornicators.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Douglas

      I bulge and throb when I imagine fornicators.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Akira

      You don't recognize insanity either, do you, old man?

      February 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  18. God

    I'm here to answer all your questions about the pope

    February 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Find the Pope in the Pizza

      Okay. Who designs his fashions?

      February 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • God


      February 11, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Trivia

      What is the origin of the tall pointy hat?

      February 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • God

      The hat is of phallic origin

      February 11, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Trivia

      Actually, it was originally the crowns of ancient Egypt put together, from the upper and lower nile kingdoms. It represents conquest and dominion. They got it from the Romans, kind of an "I'm kingier that you are" thing for them.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why did he support the policy of hiding pedophiles, allowing them to repeatedly sodomize children?

      February 11, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • God

      Whoa whoa, that pedophile thing was jesus's idea, not mine. The kid never had a wife or a mom you can't blame him

      February 11, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Héctor

      I laughed so hard haha

      February 11, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • God

      Follow me @condescendinGOD for a free heaven pass

      February 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
    • Héctor

      Hey dude look for help, there's something wrong with you.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • God

      Hey dude, I'm god

      February 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • sylvia

      It's about time After all of the horrible crimes the catholic church has commited throughout history, including pedifilia, and the inquisition, just to name a few. I can't believe anyone can still believe in some of these so called holy organizations.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Whoa whoa, that pedophile thing was jesus's idea, not mine."

      First, I didn't ask whose idea it was, I asked why the Pope hid them. Second you and Jesus are 2 of the 3 parts. I blame you as well.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • God

      Son, I had nothing to do with that pedophile thing. Jesus was like, "hey dad, is it ok if the pope is touching little boys?" And I'm all like, "kid, dub t f bro." and hes like, "well I thought maybe... after that whole holocaust ordeal, the nazi would have to blow off a little steam" And I'm like, "Jesus Christ, hitler will always be my second son, you don't have to get jealous." We havent talked since.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • End Religion

      God, this is a little off topic but why am I sneezing so much tonight? I don't have any allergies, though Christians do cause a slight reaction in me where I am constantly checking to see if I still have my wallet.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • God

      @End Religion, I think you meant to say jews there

      February 12, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Science

      You should resign with the pope ! That would be wonderful.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • God


      February 12, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Science

      Bye Bye

      10 seconds to blast off


      In physical cosmology, the Planck epoch (or Planck era) is the earliest period of time in the history of the universe, from zero to approximately 10−43 seconds


      February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  19. Colin

    The RC has finally started its death spiral in the West. It has lost the First World and now finds itself fishing for recruits in the less educated and more vulnerable continents of Africa and South America.

    And I am pleased to see it. It represents the very worst of religion; (i) belief without evidence; (ii) social retardation and stagenation; and (iii) dogmatic insistence on the silliest of beliefs.

    The sooner we rid ourselves of this horrid insti.tution, the better,

    February 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Pleased to see the parasites move on to more vulnerable victims? We should own up to the fact that they are our creation and deal with them here.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • ElizabethAnn

      Colin, and for anyone else who wants to be "rid" of the Catholic Church......it will never, ever happen. The Church has survived 2,000 years of persecution, the murders of millions of Catholics over the centuries to protect to bible and teaching of the Church, and still over 1 billion Catholics in the world. Another persecution will come, and we will stand for our freedom to believe. No human being can take it away from us. It is a God-given freedom.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Athy

      Unfortunately, you're probably right. There is no shortage of fools.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Progress has been made. Most Catholics in the developed world are the sort called cafeteria Catholics by the dwindling number of people who go to mass and do what the fathers say. As Catholics become less inclined to think or act as the strange celibate men want them to those men become increasingly irrelevant.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Akira

      Elizabeth, you actually think the RCC is persecuted??

      February 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      never is a long time, elizabeth

      February 12, 2013 at 5:39 am |
    • sam stone

      elizabeth: you have your freedom to believe. all belief systems die out. as far as persecution goes, you must be kidding.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:41 am |
  20. Douglas is Philip Douglas

    Who is a closet queen and is obsessed with gay coitus.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Douglas

      Drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait till lunchtime.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • -.-

      Having lunch under the desk, huh, Doogie?

      February 11, 2013 at 10:59 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.