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. Rabid

    I don't care who the next Pope is, so long as they aren't some bigot-racist.

    Oh, wait...

    February 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  2. czar33

    I do not care who the next Pope is, just as long that they are not Irish!

    February 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  3. grimreaper

    Like Bud Selig , who will go down as the PED Commissioner ..... the 24/7 media BUSTED this guy's watch...as the Pedophilia Pope .....

    February 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  4. JDS

    As a Catholic with close agnostic and atheist frineds, I am always open-minded when discussing faith with them as they are with me. I, like said friends, am angered when so-called "Devout Christians" mock or ridicule non-believers, and am sickened when they blame the state of the world on the non-believers and sinners. God is love, not revenge. I am similarly sickened by the arrogant remarks of many on here who, though non-believers, are clearly as religiously zealous in their believes as the people they make fun of. I wish they could know how much they are only adding to the widening gap between the two camps instead of seeking to better understand. As I would ask of Christians I also ask of the Atheists on here, please stop being so bigoted and narrow-minded. You cannot definitively know the truth anymore than one who claims to be a Christian. We are all in the dark and hoping to find the truth. Realize that instead of constantly attacking those whose views differ from your own. As a human being, I see an elderly man who simply wants a quiet retirement. As a Catholic I see a man who tried his best for something that is incredibly over-whelming. Facing people like the ones who post all of the hateful, arrogant remarks would be a lot for anyone to handle, can you blame him?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • God

      As a God with close ties to the devil, I'll be sending you to hell for talking to non believers, Laugh Out Loud

      February 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bo

      Ditto! I still come on this blog to get some newsnof what is happening in the relgious world, but I, not very interested in the crittical remarks made by both sides–nothing is gained

      February 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • norman

      JDS-most of us hate this wicked man because it was proven he protected pedophiles who abused hundreds of chidlren-we just want him dead and rotting in hell-that is something all believers and non-believers can agree on!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Realist

      Your god originated from the EVILbible.com ... So thank goodness your GODisIMAGINARY.com

      February 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • DT

      He is a man, just like the rest of us. He can do whatever he wants.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Realist

      (visit the above links and tell me you still believe ... And that your imaginary god is worth believing in and worshiping)

      February 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Just Me

      Mankind is self destructive, rather you are religious or not. The one who is rooted up in Christ can be less self destructive, unless the person decides to backslide back into his old way. Jesus says that a person who has once come to know the goodness of the LORD and decides to go back into his/her old way, 7 demons worse then the first one will come into the house (meaning the person's life) and he/she becomes worse then when he/she first came to the LORD.

      I will never blame the unbelievers, I BLAME US.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Just Me

      Realist – If there is no God, why do the atheist bother putting up an internet site about what doesn't exist? I have never seen anyone obsessed with God like the way I have seen atheists and agnostics.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What you "haven't seen" would fill volumes, dim bulb.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Realist

      To: Just Me... Since the christian GODisIMAGINARY.com ... why do put up websites to promote the lies... And why do you keep printing the EVILbible.com ??? 😉

      February 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • December

      Thanks JDS. Nicely put.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:52 pm |

      Turns out the ones that were biatching and moaning the most about God, were the ones that needed Him the most. At the end of the movie they accept Him and become good and stop posting vial things on the internet.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  5. Just Me

    I am so glad that they don't consider the rest of the 1.8 million non-denominational Christians as part of the Catholic "Christian" church.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • JDS

      why did you put "Christian" in quotes??

      February 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Just Me

      JDS – Because they are far from representing Christianity, according the what is written in the word of God and Catholic preaches false doctrines and follow idols that are built by the very hand of men.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • God

      @JDS HAHAHAHAHAHA take that biatch

      February 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • -.-

      Bull. The Catholics WERE the original organized Christian Church. You're pretty judgemental there, sport.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • God

      Wrong again, the orthodox were the true original christians. They just moved to turkey and rome didn't wanna tear down the vatican, soooo....

      February 11, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Just Me

      JDS – Anything that has to do with God has to be backed up with the Word of God, now please show me where in the Bible does it say that the Catholics are the true Christians. Thx!

      February 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Pineal

      Ok, lets not get divisive here...keep in mind...the real enemy are the so called Muslims.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • Just Me

      Pineal – The real enemy is self, Satan, and every false religion.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  6. Just Me

    One of the biggest devil living among the Catholic church.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  7. JJ

    My below comment says "Your comment is awaiting moderation.". Wow...really! Why is that?

    It's most shocking that there are a billion delusional humans following this pedophile infested cult. We people of reason who are not infected by this virus are in great danger.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Traylor

      You feel personally threatened because most of the world doesn't agree with you? Get over yourself. Your vapid self-absorption impresses no-one.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  8. jewishjesus

    more news to come for sure

    February 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • God

      HOW did you know.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  9. Logic & Reason

    Good riddance! The world does not need a pope. They need to look to themselves for the answers.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • God

      Don't eat the apple

      February 11, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • Just Me

      Wrong, we need to look to Christ for answers, not men who are not lined up with the Word and Will of God, something that obviously most so called men of "God" are not.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  10. pigheadb

    As if, he is really ordained by a god. All's just a farce, how so funny this world is.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • God

      Not A god, GOD. ME. Not gonna even touch the grammar

      February 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  11. rotorhead1871

    he probably wants to hit a few peep shows before he departs the planet......go get em' popie!!

    February 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • God

      Oh, so the choir boys aren't good enough for you.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  12. God

    First five replies get free heaven passes. Just think, no more church and you can murder people. Your welcome

    February 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • Athy

      You're, not your.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • God

      Correct my grammar and youre going to hell

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • God

      Only 4 left, better hurry

      February 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • sam

      God, heaven sounds kind of boring. Why should we go?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • God

      Youre right, hell would be so much more fun. ONLY 3 Passes left

      February 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • JJ

      You forgot the ' in "you're". Enjoy hell.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • Realist

      Your origin is the EVILBIBLE.com ... So thank goodness the christian GODisIMAGINARY.com (visit the websites)

      February 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  13. Tiana

    Pray for the Pop and the Church..

    February 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • God


      February 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  14. Darlene's World of Art

    The blinders come down when it comes to honest news reporting of the Catholic church, 1/3 of viewers, can't handle the truth? Anyone who has seen "Mea Maxima Culpa", knows Pope Benedict is stepping down because he is guilty of covering up the for the pedophiles and responsible for the thousands of children molested. And they are going to have a hard time finding a Pope that didn't know about it. The church doesn't believe in therapy just repentance and released these pedophiles back into parishes and used their knowledge of it to extort career promotions. Shame on you.

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

      Darlene's world of IDIOTS have spoken. You must have inside contact with the Vatican and the Pope himself. Maybe he admitted to you and just you that was why he was retiring, or maybe you are just blowing it out your ass.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • norman

      vboni-youre an idiot-did you read the LA Diocese papers that show conclusively the pope knew and protected pedophiles? are you really that idiotic?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  15. clarke

    Why, do you ask why? He said why, end of story. Let it go CNN, you are worse than a dog with a bone. Just report the news, don't create it because you have nothing else to do.

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

      You are correct,, CNN should have been out interviewing the 10's of thousands of children victims whose lives were destroyed because of this pope and religion. Glad you brought it up.

      Then they should have investigated how the catholic church set the example on how to care for victims, starting with their lobbying to stop laws that would expose the truth, calling victims liars and repeating that everyone else abuses kids.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  16. The Five Minute University


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

      Very Funny ... But your god originated from the EVILbible.com so thank GOODness your christian GODisIMAGINARY.com (visit these links)

      February 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • The Five Minute of Garbage


      February 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Mitzy

    Cardinal Roger Mahoney's imminent indictment.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  18. hitman

    He has rather a large head. I wonder if he will be investigated for illegal steroid use?

    February 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  19. Ken Howald

    His girlfriend called him a "pedophile" he was very impressed that a 12 year old would know that big of a word...

    February 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Hcalla

      Thats funny, I dont care who you are

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  20. PtBarnumBoy

    Probably has something to do with chubby, young alter boys.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • vboni

      And so the disrespectful IDIOTS begin to come out of the wood work.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • sam

      Begin?? Where have you been?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:36 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.