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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
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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. Harvey

    While I do not see eye to eye with the Catholic Church; I do agree with the pope's decision to step down. If he feels that he can no longer fulfill the duties of office for whatever reason; it is his responsibility to step aside for someone who can. It is better for the church, its followers, and for the pope to do so. One of the problems with the church is leadership that can not control the church because they do not have the strength due to old age. I applaud Benedict for realizing tact.

    I believe a lot of the problems Benedict had to deal with (and will be his legacy) where inherited from earlier popes that lost control of the organization. This is a sure fire way to invite corruption and to allow it to spread like a cancer. I am not counting John Paul I in this list.

    I hope Benedict's successor can finish rooting out corruption where ever it exists in the organization. It will be hard because it has been building for centuries.

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

    Obviously he saw the HBO special MEA MAXIMA CULPA SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. Just came out last Sunday and implicates him for decades over cover up. Either that or he's tapping one of the Vatican tour guides and needed his freedom to get some after 85.5 years of celibacy (excluding any contact with young boys). Mind-boggling this organization is allowed to exist.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • God

      Mind boggling youre not going to hell, oh wait you are, LOL

      February 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Any other organization that covered up the abuse of children would have been prosecuted under the RICO act.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • lalalala

      He didn't become a priest till about the 50s. So he was like late 20s early 30s already?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  3. Mohammad A Dar

    He just resigned from bored.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • God

      You posted from grammars

      February 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • The Five Minute University

      LOL@God

      February 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Trader

      Maybe he resigned beacause the church wouldn't pay for his birth control.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  4. nilsonregina

    Are we seeing the rise of the anti-Christ prophesied throughout the Bible?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • God

      Wow, youre really smart.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  5. Guy who says what others think

    The next pope has some BIG hats to fill.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Only because the pope has a big head

      February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • God

      HAHAHAHA Ken's going to heaven

      February 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  6. clepto

    this poop was always meant to act as interim for the new poop to usher in the new phase of the church....world domination...

    February 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Trader

      perhaps world starvation is more likely

      February 11, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  7. KEVIN

    I think this is a smart move by Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church. The role of the Pope has become more active in the Pope being expected to travel and act as a diplomat. A diplomat who makes NO judgement or opinion on politics and other cultures and religions. Quite a unique job.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  8. K from AZ

    He's had enough of Comrade Obama & his administration with their godless policies!

    February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • God

      Quite frankly I've had enough of Fuehrer Benedict.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      You're an idiot.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      My previous reply was to K from AZ

      February 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • God

      Youre forgiven

      February 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Thanks

      February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Steve

    Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah... I couldn't be happier to get this news. I haven't been to mass going on two years because of Benedict and the way he's pointed the church. My greatest wish is that someone can clone Pope Paul and bring the church back to greatness.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • God

      Cloning is for the devil

      February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Steve

      Sorry, I posted without proof reading. I meant Pope John Paul, not Pope Paul. Sorry!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Steve

      God, pretty sure my meaning for a pope like John Paul was indicated. Think you have a bigger problem with your user name, than my english.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Mike

    Maybe the next poop will change the rules and allow priests to fondle women.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • God

      Were working on it

      February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  11. agathokles

    "The Pope explained that he was resigning so as to be able to spend more time with his wife and children."

    February 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • hitman

      He needs some nookie! He got tired of polishing the knob!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  12. Aladi U

    PLS GUYS STOP JUDGING POPE BENEDICT SO HARSHLY. This church belongs to Jesus, not him, not you. Thank God none can point him as a pedo, pedos have their scores to settle wit God. Let him be satan worshippers! Remember u cant pull down the church as that's pulling Down Christ. Dnt believe what ur master satan tells U. Ucant, the illuminatis cant either, they're rather making us stronger, and bet the battle's very interesting coz we're sure of victory!
    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 7:13 pm |
    • God

      This church belongs to me

      February 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • jackson

      He inherited them. And what did he do about it?

      NOTHING!

      Just like every pope before him.

      The Vatican even hired Cardinal Law to a high position, even knowing he was a pedophile. In 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed Law as Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.

      How exactly does THAT tell your followers that you are handling the pedophilia situation?

      It doesn't.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      He was a pedophile enabler. Worse, almost than a pedophile, since he enabled so many of them to have far more victims than they would have otherwise had.

      Before he was Pope, he was in charge of the coverup. He ran the office that set the policies that protected the pedophiles worldwide.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  13. Robert Edward

    Actually gay men who are living in denial married to women (or who run and hide in the Priesthood) sometimes have stunted $exual attractions to children because they repressed their $exuality so that it didn't develop normally – they are high risk for molesting children.

    To the extent which someone represses their $exuality, there will be a proportional lack of age progression in their $exual attractions. To the extent which someone represses their $exuality, there will be a proportional increase in obsession with their $exuality. Common sense Modern Psychology works much better than the bible.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Athy

      It's sexual, not $exual.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • God

      No, it's $exual

      February 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  14. hitman

    I wonder if the Italian Mafia will have any openings for him?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • God

      Nope, but I hear hell's been looking for a nazi pedophile

      February 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  15. M. Hoque

    A time comes in anybody's life when he should retire from an "active" life, – be he a Pope or a Travellor !

    February 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  16. Ll

    When did he die, Vatican?

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

      He's been brain dead since he got alzheimers, duh...

      February 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Ll

      Pulse or no pulse?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • God

      No pulp. Pulp is the devils work

      February 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  17. J.B. Good

    I read this "BeliefBlog" several times each week. Eric Marropodi is usually quite good, but this story fell quite short. He missed the obvious reason. The only way this pope can influence who follows him is to not die but resign. That way he ensures the church continues to be run by the good-ol-boys that are as ultra-conservative as he is. The election will not reflect the breath of the Holy Spirit but the foul odor of politics. Eric needs to read "The Pope's War," by Matthew Fox.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Ll

      Where is he? No sightings, no videos, no still photos...

      February 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  18. God

    I'm here to answer any of your questions, fire away

    February 11, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Trader

      How long before my Apple stock doubles in value?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • God

      HAHAHA, only 3 years till they half.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Guy who says what others think

      Why did you make atheists so smug?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • God

      Better question, Why did I make christians so stupid

      February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Guy who says what others think

      Ha! Busted. Not even God would post something that smug. You are definitely an atheist pretending to be God. FACT.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • God

      Look, I'm very sorry about the tiny penis I gave you, but someone has to get them.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      LOL

      February 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  19. Emmsy

    He's not fork tongued like our President. He says exactly why he's retiring! But the knuckleheads in the media want to make it something it's not. What a nightmare for our citizens! For the next 2-3 weeks we have to be exposed to the uniformed conjecture made by reporters who have no clue about him or the Catholic Church 🙁 The sad thing is that quite a few of todays reporters refuse to educate themselves on the facts and keep vomiting out misinformation to the masses. They seem to be bigoted and purposefully distorting the truth. Ugh! The MSM has completely lost it's credibility and it's like having a state run media. Good thing we have alternatives!

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

      You my child, are very naive

      February 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • J.B. Good

      You are naive. There is a significant reason why this hasn't been done in hundreds of years. The last pope had Parkinson's and didn't resign. It is the media's job to ask questions and we need them doing their job.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Emmsy

      Then why aren't you at those alternative sources? Why are you here if you don't like the MSM?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • sam

      Sop fantasizing about the President's tongue.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  20. Leon Price

    When he was Cardinal Ratzinger was he involved in covering up Pedophile priests?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • J.B. Good

      Of course.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Not involved with – in charge of. He ran the department that set the policy to "coverup" rather than to do something.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:23 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.