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. DC603

    Alzheimer's or scandal. The pope is a lifelong position. You don't just retire from old age. Alzheimer's would likely be an exception. Or a massive scandal that is about to blow open.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • God

      Spoiler alert, it's both. LOL

      February 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • angelofflorida

      I think it might be related to a medical condition

      February 11, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Karim

      You don't retire from old age? I'd like to see you handle a pope's job at 85

      February 11, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • DC603

      Karim – I fully plan on retiring from old age. The pope, however, is a lifelong commitment once you accept. There's a reason why there hasn't been a pope to resign in 600 years.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  2. Ken Howald

    to quote Seneca the Senior, advisor and tutor to Nero..."Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Be watchful of the rulers as they use your beliefs to control you...

    February 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  3. Klayymann

    As a catholic I'm disappointed, when your reach that level as pope it's till you die no retirement, now he gets a pension?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • God

      First I made him a nazi, then I gave him dimensia, and now alzheimers. What's it gonna take? Death, I would never...

      February 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  4. jdoe

    It's probably no big mystery. He didn't want to be Pope in the first place and was looking forward to retirement. He wants to be able to enjoy the remaining years of his life in tranquility.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  5. Lilleyfrontzing

    He's getting out before the Banks collapse in Italy...smart but nutty dude.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Brad76

    If you cannot perform your daily tasks any longer then retire!!! There's tons of smart people eager to take your places.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  7. amac

    Why is the pope resigning? Advanced age, lack of stamina to carry out his duties..... in short, the pope's pooped.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  8. ME TOO

    It's a shame some in our House and Senate don't do the same thing. McCain is senile, remembering only the glory of war and none of the pain it inflicts on families. McConnell is senile and has forgotten that he works for us and not the corporations (of course this applies to most of them).

    We need mandatory top ages for them. Or vote them out as soon as possible after 65.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  9. we may never know

    Is it someone simply stepping down,


    was someone in the library with the candlestick and the butler caught wind of it?

    February 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  10. skeptic2

    Legally this might be a bad move. As head of state Ratzinger was probably immune from a subpoena about his pedophilial cover-ups. Once he steps down, however, he's just another priest in the hierarchy and could be hauled before a grand jury.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tampawondering

      Not true once a Pope always a Pope. He will be the silent Pope

      February 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Chay Escobar

    Just let the Pope resing without judgement or criticism. You people are cruel and evil but have every right to state your opinions I guess.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • ??

      Not that easy Chay..This PERSON has some explaining to do

      February 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • ;p;

      Haha omg

      February 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • J Robinson

      The pope has no "explaining to do" to you or anyone else. No more than Hilary Clinton, Bernanke, the head of the NRA or David Letterman. You, of course, have no explaining to do because you never did anything except complain about somebody who took on a monumental task at an advanced age and did a few things that not everyone liked. He was a fine, dedicated and highly principled leader of the the Catholic church, that daily renders massive support and assistance to the poor, helpless and needy people throughout the world. God bless Pope Benedict!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  12. mlblogs2012

    According to the Prophecies of ST Malachy we are now in big trouble.. Next Pope after the Olive Pope is the last Pope

    February 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense. The "prophecies" have been interpreted exactly as men have wished them to be.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • I wonder

      He'll likely take the name Pope Kalamata to give himself more clout!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Ruby

      And just why is that trouble for anyone? I say let all the churches fall, give religion back to the people.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  13. jonat

    The Pope said over 1 year ago that he may not be able to fulfill all his duties and might step down. This isn't one of those "unexpected" bad economy stories the media like to point too, this is just a tired old man that wants to retire...no biggie

    February 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  14. gardengirl

    I don't understand why people still support that church with the corruption to its core, all the way up to this pope who covered up ped ophilia and personally wrote a letter protecting and moving a known pe dophile rather than kicking the guy out and having him arr ested. How can you give $ to that organization? I know they do good things, too, but it can't make up for all the innocent children rap ed and mo lested by priests world wide all these years.

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

      Actually it was the perv who wrote the letter to -him-... which we don't have, so this story is objectively of little use to us.

      But it can easily be imagined that it was a whiny, cry-y letter, and that Ratzinger referred the matter back to the management who actually had a realistic chance of being able to evaluate what the perv was actually doing. Which is what EVERY administrator on the face of the earth would have done. If you find this worthy of condemnation-either you're clairvoyant or you're not very realistic.

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

      Like you said THEY DO GOOD THINGS......
      to many many many Cathoic people the teaching of faith is love of their life.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • gardengirl

      Many Catholic people do good things. That does not erase or make up for the fact that the church, from the top down, has knowingly abetted ped ophiles world wide, the current pope included. The N y times did a good story on this. The current pope was involved directly and it is not delusion to say what he did was criminal and he belongs in jail. google the story. You can find it. written march 25 10

      February 11, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  15. T. R. Hustvet

    Victor Hugo's Les Miserables – Inspector Javire is the literary precedent. A man whose lifelong principles he has now found to be of little use. The Cardinals put Ratzingberger in to neutralize him. He is at the very heart of the abuse cover up. He has no concept of how to deal with the rights of women. He has no ability to deal with the horrible secrets of the church. Now perhaps a pope of the emerging populations will be possible. Or maybe the Empire, like that of the Soviet Union, is no longer relevant.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Indigo1969

    Too many dirty secrets in the catholic church. Sinead O'Connoner tried a long time ago to expose the corruption in the Catholic church and her life was threatened. But the truth shall prevailed.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  17. achepotle

    Exs Benedict

    February 11, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  18. Susie

    I would like to see Zladko Sudac get nominated to be pope, his credentials for his age are something to be looked at

    February 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Cousin Larry

      Balki Bartokomous would be better... at least he was a real shepherd.

      February 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  19. merryjoe

    The man has dementia, probably Alzheimer's. And is failing fast.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  20. jurby

    i say good for him to have the sense to know when to put himself first and take care of himself and his needs rather than running himself into the ground until he were to die on the pulpat.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:37 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.