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. John

    Stop electing old guys...

    February 11, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  2. HolyMoly

    The only thing he accomplished is the cover-up of the pedophiles within the church. I'm sure his butler had a reason for stealing his letters which more than likely exposed the church to all the corruption and greed. These people speak of helping the poor but they live in the lap of luxury, they have their own bank, they don't pay taxes, they act like a bunch of mafia bosses, and are not accountable for any wrong doing. It's difficult to understand why catholics still defend them. Why would anyone want to support and follow such a corrupt organization is beyond belief. Good riddance!!

    February 11, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • KB

      I was raised Catholic, and couldn't agree more with your paragraph. Haven;t been to church in a million years.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Because the aspects of the organization that MIGHT allow them to be corrupt (because you don't honestly know that this life is luxurious; he couldn't bring his cat, for example) don't matter squat to regular people? Church contributions here don't go to the Vatican, for example, except for the odd appeal for specific causes managed from there. Whether or not they pay taxes is irrelevant to us. And so on.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • ;p;

      He couldn't BRING HIS CAT?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why couldn't he bring his cat? Said who? Are you ef fing kidding? If the pope can be forbidden to have a pet, then what the hell good is he as the head of the church?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  3. ericgoestoholland

    I'm not a Catholic, so my credibility may not be valid. But here's what I think is going on, and it's not very complicated:

    Being 85 isn't exactly a picnic for most people. And being The Pope, head of the entire Catholic church, and supposed representative to God of the Universe, isn't exactly a laid-back job. Maybe the man is just...well...a man. And is tired.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • HGB

      Catholic or not, that's just good common sense. Glad someone else gets it and isn't looking to sensationalize everything.
      For the rest of you, remember this day when you turn 85...

      February 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  4. Nick

    Funny... in this reality show era, the idea of someone honorably and quietly stepping down because they legitimately worry about their capacity to fulfill their duties seems foreign.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • HGB

      Yea, REALLY. Wonder when someone will start a rumor that Kim Kardashian is having the Pope's baby?
      People lap up anything these days.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  5. charles darwin

    He's going to write a book and be on Dr.Phil.

    Perhaps the Ellen show too.

    I really don't care what he does.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  6. tapu/diego homans

    So... a two-week notice? Isn't that what you give when you work at Wendy's?

    February 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • MattD

      You tell us! No doubt you know from experience.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • tapu/diego homans

      Gee, what are you so testy about?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • MattD

      Not so much your comment as the other vitriol here. Sorry.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • tapu/diego homans

      No problem. And yes, most comments here, as anywhere, are ugly or just mean. Not sure why that is.

      Anyway, the two-week time frame really did strike me as odd. If it had said the Pope were stepping down in June or something, but a couple weeks from now??

      February 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • MattD

      Yes, you would think he might stick around for one more Easter. Or maybe he thinks he can't handle it. Or maybe something big is brewing. I think this is going to be interesting. Or maybe it will be no big deal after he is gone.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  7. HGB

    The Pope is 85. Most of us retire in our 60's.
    My father-in-law is 82, showing signs of dementia, we pay his bills now because he forgets, he no longer prepares his own meals. He's in a retirement home now.

    I would imagine that the Pope realizes that he is in no condition to lead the church any more. My hat's off to him for making this difficult decision.
    As we make advancements, people will live longer and longer. The REAL question is – why didn't previous Popes step down when they became too old to serve.

    Of course, CNN must come up with other more scandalous reasons, but let's not forget that this Pope didn't invent pedophile Priests, he inherited them.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Sheila

      Just keep drinking the Kool Aid, HGB.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • December

      It might set a new precedent.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • HGB

      Bet your favorite flavor is CNN...

      February 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Sheila

      Nope. I'm a conservative, Rebulican, Catholic who don't step into a Catholic Church 'till they clean it up. This wouldn't have gone on this long if women were in charge.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Matt

      Oh, so you are a Baptist?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • HGB

      I hear you Sheila. i'm a lot like you. Went to catholic schools and all that – hated every minute of it. Don't really practice any more. But when a guy is 85 and says he's too old and wants to step down, that's good enough for me even if he's catholic...
      I don't need to insert conspiracy theories. Just take a good look at a few 85 year- olds. Some hold up very well, but most don't.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • ??

      He DID invent and enable.Read up...and stop being part of the problem.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • HGB

      Yea, and Obama invented the national debt...
      No, but he IS enabling it to balloon out of control.

      Point is – YES there still is a pedophile priest problem. No, that's NOT why the Pope is stepping down.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  8. captiosus

    Popes don't just resign. They're supposed to be the closest living being to God in the entire faith. Health and age are poor reasons for resigning. Besides, if age was really an issue, why didn't he retire as a bishop? Why did he accept the role of Pope? And to admit, early on, that his tenure would be short? Sure sounds like he had a "career plan" in mind or knew he was going to be a distraction piece for the Church to cover something else up.

    There's something more to this story that we're just not being told. Something the Catholic Church is sweeping, or has already swept, under the rug.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      he was a liberal Pope, believed in science.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • MattD

      He did retire as a bishop – he retired as Bishop of Rome. That is the Pope's official position. Pope is a nickname to signify his senior position amongst the clergy.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Be cool

    Credible sources have indicated that he will now be joining the Boy Scouts.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  10. Jerry

    close down the RCC ..., juar

    February 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  11. frankkoja

    Why this hate toward him, if you are talking about child abuse. How come you don't mention abortion, which kill unborn. Please be Realistic. God bless you all.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • sam

      Yes, screw child abuse, at least those little boogers are here and alive! Abortion is terrible because it's hard to diddle the unborn.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      Your comparison is utter garbage. Sorry, but most abortions take place well before viability, and your definition of life and when it begins is nonsense. Yet you would try to say this is somehow comparable to children (actual living, breathing, functioning children) being molested? No wonder religion is in its death throes, and good riddance.

      Ratzi should be going to prison for his numerous efforts to cover up the pedophile problem inherent in an organization that tries to suppress other natural urges.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • MattD

      Perhaps in his infinite wisdom Sir Craig can tell us when life does begin.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • ;p;

      The bible says it starts at birth, when first breath is taken.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • MattD

      No it doesn't.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • ;p;

      It does.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  12. truth is a blinding light

    If I were somehow king of the world I would have the catholic church disbanded. I would also have every priest and higher up that was envolved with child molestation or the coverup put un jail. What they (the church) did to those kids was criminal. The catholic church has more harm than good.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • nisroc00

      Why is it that every time the Catholic Church comes up someone cries child molesters! No offence I agree and would like to see these molesters behind bars as well. I would also like to see the church take steps to ensure no more child molesters get inside the church. Maybe they have. BUT this is not about child molesting this is about the pope stepping down... please stay on the subject.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  13. It's gods image

    He got a letter from the guys at the giant hadron collider telling him that they finally disproved the existence of god. Now he's going to sail away on his holp parachute like any other CEO, jumping ship before everything comes crashing to a halt

    February 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • It's gods image


      February 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Tj

    Something's Up

    February 11, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • quasar

      I am wondering if the Pope is resigning to avoid answering for the financial budget shortfall that the Vatican is currently having?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  15. Hitman

    Obama will blame Bush again!

    February 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • ;p;


      February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  16. Dan

    Who is going to lead the pedophiles now?

    February 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Since you are so comcermed about, one wonders if you are voluntering?

      February 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  17. jim

    Um, he's old and sick and can't do his job effectively anymore.

    But this is CNN, why aren't we blaming guns or racism?

    February 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @jim –

      Don't worry, jim, we all know the Papacy has a long history of violence and racism.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • ;p;

      Big Shiz got so excited thinking about it, he's having a stroke

      February 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  18. ronjayaz

    I forgot to add that any Pope who wore red shoes by Prada may have thought he was the Wizard of Oz in his old age! Dorothy in drag!

    February 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  19. Mohammad A Dar

    I am sure he is going to POP up somewhere "on a mission from God".

    February 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Hitman

      He is too old to have anything pop up for him! Wink, wink!

      February 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Reality to the Rescue

    I find it interesting that the catholic sheeple look to a senile geriatric who condones pedaphilia and helps spread aids throughout Africa a spiritual guide? Atrocities just like the long line of his predecessors.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      You are assuming an awful lot there... Your flamming ignorace is like a light house ... warning people to stay off he rocks around you!

      February 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • ;p;

      Flamming he-rocks?? omg

      February 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
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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.