Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will resign from the helm of the Catholic Church later this month has taken the world by surprise. Benedict will be only the sixth pope to abdicate the position in church history, and the first in over 500 years. Citing ill health, the 85-year-old pope said the position requires “strength of mind and body . . . 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.”
The Vatican says a new pope will be chosen by the end of March. In the meantime, the hearsay and hypotheses about what this means for the church have already begun. Latitude News brings you a round-up of stories from around the world about the pope’s early retirement.
The bookie’s favorite to succeed Benedict is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who would be the first black pope ever (but not the first from Africa). Turkson is also believed to be slightly less hostile to homosexuality than other contenders, according to Pink News, Europe’s gay news service. Turkson is favored at 9/4 odds according to the report. Rounding out the top three are Canadian cardinal Marc Oullet (5/2) and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria (7/2), who is also black.
What about the soon-to-be-former pope? Some critics argue that Pope Benedict was never able to step out of the shadow of his charismatic Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul II. In an interview with Polish Radio, Poland’s top rabbi draws a line between the two popes.
“The major difference [between them] was that John Paul II had this incredible blessing of boundless charisma. It’s not that Pope Benedict wasn’t charismatic, it’s just that JP II was so charismatic,” says Rabbi Michael Schudrich.
Polish Radio goes on to explain the qualities that set Benedict apart as a controversial conservative:
Pope Benedict is thought of as a theological conservative, with uncompromising views on homosexuality and women priests, to the dismay of some of his congregation. He was also seen as weak in being slow to confront sexual abuse within the Church: allegations which dogged much of his pontificate.
But in Ireland’s Independent, Damian Thompson makes another connection between the two popes when he says that John Paul should have taken at least as much heat for the child abuse scandal.
Thompson argues Benedict was not a perfect prelate: ultra-traditionalist bishops, including one who denied the Holocaust, should never have been allowed into the faith. And, of course, the pedophile scandal cast a dark shadow on the whole Church. But the abusive priests, Thompson writes, should have been uncovered long before Benedict took St. Peter’s throne. Ultimately, Thompson concludes that the retiring pope deserves the highest praise:
Benedict XVI‘s achievements as pontiff have been remarkable. He has renewed the worship of the Church, reconnecting it to the majesty and deep piety of the past. He has forged new links with non-Catholics, for example by bringing ex-Anglicans into the fold through the Ordinariate. He has promulgated teaching documents reconnecting the love and teaching of Christ to the structures of the Church – structures that, it would appear, he feels now unable to continue ruling.
Not everyone shares Thompson’s warm feelings for the Benedict. In an op-ed for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Bern Riegert writes that Benedcit’s resignation will probably be his most important action as a Pope. Benedict, a German, was perceived as “detached” and “out of touch” by many, writes Riegert. His standing was damaged after a former aide leaked many of his confidential papers. But the Pope’s announcement will forever alter the mechanisms of power at the Vatican:
[Benedict’s] resignation is a brave step, a revolutionary step. He has set new norms. Benedict XVI’s successor will not be able to cling to the office. The lifelong papacy has been opened to the development of a more temporary office. The Vatican has opened itself – just a little bit – to worldly conceptions of governance and democracy. Eight years ago, when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, the German tabloid newspaper “Bild” cheerfully boasted, “We are the Pope!” Now the headline will have to read: ‘We give up, but in dignity!’
Whatever you think about Pope Benedict’s decision, it is a certainly a surprise. In a story carried by Lebanon’s The Daily Star, Agence France-Press writes about the very few previous popes who abdicated. Here are two that caught our eye:
– In 1045, Benedict IX, renowned as one of the most disgraceful popes the Church has known, sold his papacy to his godfather, pious priest John Gratian, so that he could get married. Reportedly unable to persuade the woman in question to have him, he returned to seize Rome.
– In 1046, Gratian, who had reigned shortly as pope Gregory VI and was considered the true pope by many despite Benedict IX’s violent return to claim the throne, was forced to resign himself amid accusations he had bought the papacy.
A lot has changed since 1046. We’re not sure how the word spread about Pope Benedict IX’s abdication, but when the current Benedict announced his abdication to Catholic cardinals in Latin, journalists around the world sat waiting for a translation. But Giovanna Chirri, an Italian journalist who understands Latin, translated the speech in real time, giving her the scoop of a lifetime. On Twitter, Chirri comments that she grew “weak at the knees” as she listened to the pope’s announcement, and that the Pope’s Latin “is very easy to understand.”