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. january1

    God bless you Pope Benedict! Thank you for your service and dedication to our Lord.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • God

      Yeah, thanks bro

      February 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      Now, quickly go rest in Jesus's arms. Or kneel in front of his holy rod. Whichever works best for you

      February 12, 2013 at 5:43 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Surely this brings into question god's infallibility, wouldn't he have known that Joe couldn't last the distance so why appoint him?

      February 12, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  2. pmargins

    Pope Benedict's stepping down is just one of the many veiled admission that this church has no true divine authority. Of course they will hide behind the most convenient ethos, "God works in mysterious ways!", an amazing trick that becomes amazing when the utterer believes it with his or her own heart. Stepping down due to advance age means admission that the Papal position is just like any other job, and that his selection was never divine.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  3. tania2

    The Pope is very old. I have no idea how he ran this church at his age.
    May god bless him and I hope the next Pope is just as good.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Basically

      Popes don't really run the church. The are more like Ronald McDonald than Ray Kroc. You could elect a sock puppet Pope and the result would be the same.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  4. LB

    Let's not forget that before he was a pope Mr. Ratzinger had a lot of questions about his integrity and how he did some cover-ups for priests abusing children. Now, as a pope his chauffeur was prosecuted for divulging some personal information that god's knows what it is. It seems like this is some kind of conspiracy. Popes don't resign.... and having another motive or motives different than the age sounds pretty good to me.

    February 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Dippy

      ..god's knows..? Hm. That's a real head scratcher, isn't it?

      February 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  5. Obviously

    Why did he resign? I'm betting the real reason was that he could hand-pick a hard-liner as his successor. Popeferatu already stacked the College of Cardinals with his toadies.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  6. Misterwire

    This is not good for the world. We just have to pray, wait and see.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  7. john

    he is doing GOD's work and we should respect his decision.. rememeber there is always evil when the good is around.

    we have to hope the next pontiff is an angel of GOD's and he will be here to save the catholic from those who do evil in the name of GOD.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      "we have to hope the next pontiff is an angel of GOD's and he will be here to save the catholic from those who do evil in the name of GOD."

      did you mean Catholic priests who do evil in the name of GOD?

      February 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      He knows when to call it a day – he deserted from the German army just before the end of WW2 and now leaves this when the scandal is growing. By the RCC's own estimates there are 6000 confirmed or "not implausible" priests involved. God's work? I don't think so.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • raul

      the devil was an angel too you know

      February 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm |

      he can't be doing god's work because GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit)

      February 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm |

      ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... he can't be doing god's work because GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit)

      February 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  8. Proud Atheist

    The papacy has been responsible for the crusades; the inquisition; the suppression of science, knowledge, and truth; the persecution of Galileo for his scientific discoveries; and the protection, aiding, abetting, harboring, asylum, and amnesty of child predators. Good riddance!

    February 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Badda Bing

      On the other hand, they have really flamboyant hats. So it all balances out.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • Be cool

      Very well said.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • newsrell

      It's not fair to talk about the resigning pope alone. Let's talk about the faithful too, shall we ? They hang on tight to their precious tradition like not allowing women into priesthood, proud to uphold tradition, yet, the most important and powerful symbolic tradition of the pope, to hang on in office until death, practiced for ladt 600 years, they gleefully accepted without question, as if nothing important, just to avoid discussing the real reason of his resignation. What a hypocrisy.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Badda Bing

      The faithful don't have fabulous hats and shiny man-dresses.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • sam stone

      Those hats are faaaabulous

      February 12, 2013 at 5:46 am |
  9. winchester74

    Benedict got a better offer from a lobbying group in Washington.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  10. Douglas

    Thank you Pope Benedict XVI for rejecting the concept of "gay marriage" and preserving family values.

    Thank you for protecting the unborn in your stand against abortion.

    Thank you also for calling out gay predator priests who have ruined the lives of so many young boys through the wicked act of gay coitus.

    Thank you for speaking out against the sin of slavery and the vampires of business and finance who take from the poor and give to the rich.

    Your place in heaven is reserved and ready for your occupancy.

    Well done...good and faithful servant!

    February 11, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Standard fantasy nonsense from the Delusional Douglas.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Jerry Fallswell

      AMEN Douglas !

      February 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Douglas

      Midwest Rail,

      Let every knee bow and every tongue confess...starting with you!

      February 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Thank you Pope Benedict XVI for you service in German army.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • midwest rail

      No thanks, Douglas – your invented church, non-existent "facilitators", and wholly ficti-tious "rehabilitated" gay people betray a sick mind. Your obsession is a mental disorder. Seek help.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Have you seen the RCC headquarters? Very expensive digs – one does not get that wealthy taking the side of the poor. Historically the RCC was embedded with the kings who ruled by "divine decree" – aka let's exploit the peasants and have ourselves a life of luxury.
      Calling out priests – he did no such thing.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @In Santa we trust –

      The RCC is the greatest confidence game ever inflicted on the credulous.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Douglas: Proud Member of the Roy Cohn Memorial Closet Club

      Douglas once again obsessing about gays and gay sex.

      Heterosexuals don't do that. Self-repressed closet cases do.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • Butch Leatherchaps

      Douglas is into getting on his knees and using his tongue.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Akira

      And yet when Douglas is on This Just In he soundly decries the pope and everything it has done to avoid persecuting pedophiles...hypocrite. Just another day in Dougie Lalalieland.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • newsrell

      Calling out gay ? FYI, he actually protected gay practice within his church. Thousands of them all over the world. The bank director within the Vatican had to resign in shame, just like this pope, due to Financial malpractice for the vatican. Scandal upon scandal, all ignored by the faithful.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Every tongue will bow and every knee will confess

      Douglas ”Let every knee bow and every tongue confess...starting with you!"

      The day that I see a 7 headed dragon spewing torrents of water and
      eating pregnant women, or a swarm of crown and armor wearing locusts
      with the face of a man, the hair of a woman, the mouth of a lion and
      the tail of a scorpion swoops across the plains as is prophesied in
      Revelation, I'll bow down and beg Jesus for forgiveness. But not before

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

      Doogie As obsessed as you are with gays and what they do, I suspect your knee has bowed many times, and your tongue has cleaned many rods

      February 12, 2013 at 5:49 am |
  11. thiagan

    A human life spent absolutely with one focused objective, that objective being to become one with God, in any human sense must and will be considered crazy, bonkers or insane. If many , such as those in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic "Church" who very well know the great fractures in such an organisation realize that here is a man who can lead they in their human good faith will elect him to lead and guide them. But being one with God is not an organisation which is in essence human, in which one must act in a manner that is human and humane. Being one with God is, on the contrary an organism, you must fit the bill. An in depth study of John chapter 10 maybe enlighten in this context, but for true enlightenment one has to walk with Him absolutely. No human can be appointed or chosen by humans for such a 'neogenetic' being to be created by men, for whom there cannot be a precise terminology. If anyone so chosen decides in truth that he does not for any reason does not fit the bill, he will in truth before his creator only, resign. There is probably no way he can fully explain his decision to man as he can to God. But if one is chosen by God, he will achieve the purpose he was chosen for. Only Mathew 24:35 may enlighten one who is on the way to enlightenment. What BS? Yes:-) agreed 100%. But?

    February 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      do you think it was solely his decision?

      February 11, 2013 at 9:14 pm |

      Ahem (clears throat) ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit)

      February 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Mark C. Williams

    Why? Because he was head of the CDF and ordered all child molestation records to his office in the 90s, that's why. Now he's implicated in the cover-up of those crimes. The church had to do something. No pope has ever resigned and this guy wouldn't either but for the knowledge of his complicity in the molestation charges. It was the only thing he and the church could do attempting to get closure on the issue. I don't know if it will work.

    February 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  13. the AnViL


    February 11, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  14. Mohammad A Dar

    Hands up! show me your hands! keep your hands in the air !! not you old man, I am talking to guy standing next to you.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  15. Rick

    The noose is tightening.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  16. Just Me

    Get rid of the Pope and every false religion.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • ...

      u r a sad sad person. believe what you like. no one will even so much as care for your thoughts. its better if you go be ignorant somewhere else. ur going to give some bs speach about how this and that religion and all this other crap which ur going to pull out of ur ass and think ur right about it i hope you really swallow your words one day. and come to realization that there is something bigger than ur ignorant thoughts and veiws on life

      February 11, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  17. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Joey resigned because the strange celibate weasels surrounding him just never gave him that proper feeling of Gemütlichkeit.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  18. professor

    Pope Benedict XVI is a great man, a scholar, a man of letters, with an astounding publication record. His Encyclical on Love was a bit longer than Paul but nearly as profound. I saw him speak at the Vatican in December. He blessed the crowd in 8 languages and delivered (in 8 languages) an amazing message about the Annunciation and the faith of the Virgin the week before Christmas. I am Christian but not Catholic but I don't need to be a certain flavor to recognize a great man, a holy man, a wise man, a man whose presence filled the room with God's grace.

    He made his decision to resign in prayer and based entirely on his understanding of God's will.

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

      A great man will never support the evil deeds of the priests who has gotten away with pedophile, which in this case, every Pope is far from ever being a great man, much less a man of God.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Be cool

      A great man? One who was supposed to protect the children but instead protected the rapist priests? Why didn't he turn in those criminals to the authorities? How can you say that a person, any person who would cover up such crimes is a great man?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • justmyopinion

      Ur becoming an endangered species

      February 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  19. DamiDams

    C'mon let's be honest here (and I am speaking as an Italian raised in a Catholic family), he is clearly in trouble for some shady things and is choosing to step down..

    February 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Jay


      February 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  20. Keith

    Good riddance I say, this world needs fewer Nazis.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • Mr. Duckworth

      Yeah – what we need is good riddance to all the Nazis like all these atheist and non religious people supporting the human rights violation of abortion on demand anytime anywhere for anyone. Actually this kind of policy is very much Nazi like. This good Pope told the truth in the face of those who lie.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • -.-

      Duck, you asshole, don't have an abortion then, you bigoted pig. Keep defending the safe haven for pedophiles. This "good" pope has been skiting the truth for years, you moron.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Akira

      Considering that, 1) the church sometimes has trouble deciding when a fetus is actually human, and 2) there is no-one forcing these women to have an abortion, as the Nazis forced people into the gas chambers, I would say that your analogy is weak, Mr. Duckworth.
      That, and he is complicit in covering up systematic child rape...not all that honest or truthful.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • Really-O?

      This pope give Nazis a bad name.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:38 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.