On Monday of this week, February 11, 2013, the world was shocked to learn that Pope Benedict XVI had announced his resignation from the papacy, effective February 28. It was shocking, not because people were unaware that the 85-year-old pontiff's health had declined, but because a pope had not resigned from office since Gregory XII ended his nine-year papacy by resigning in 1415, two years shy of 600 years ago. Benedict's voluntary resignation is only the third of its kind in the nearly two millennia since Roman bishops have ruled the Catholic Church (three other popes—Martin I in 653, Benedict V in 964, and Benedict IX twice in 1044 and 1048—were forcibly removed from office).
Speaking in Latin, he resigned during a meeting of Vatican cardinals by saying:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, 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.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in 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 bark 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.
The Economist reports in a February 16, 2013, article, "The Pope's Resignation: See You Later":
Benedict had been toying with resignation for almost four years. Visiting the earthquake-stricken Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009, he left his pallium, the woollen band that is a symbol of the papal office, at the tomb of Celestine V, a reluctant pope who resigned [in 1294] to pray. In 2010 he said that a pope who became unable to do his job properly "has the right, and in some circumstances even the duty, to resign."
He will likely retire to the newly refurbished Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican.
His resignation should not really come as a huge surprise. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was in many ways a reluctant pope, already aged 78 when elected and thus one of the oldest to take the office. He did not angle for the office when Pope John Paul II died in 2005, but as the right-hand man of the former Pope and a symbol of continuity at a time when the Catholic Church hierarchy desired stability at the top, he was the go-to candidate. He has said that he had hoped that the College of Cardinals would have found someone else for the job, but he conscientiously accepted its will when it became clear.
The media have generally considered him to be far too conservative and boring, and his papacy to be a failure. He has steadfastly defended Catholic doctrine, as would be expected from the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known earlier as the Inquisition, the Church's doctrinal enforcement agency. He would not surrender his office or Church to the relativistic and progressive attitudes and ideas that are so dominant in today's world. Though the Vatican suffered a handful of scandals during his administration, Benedict did not allow them to soften his beliefs or approach.
Since he is over 80 years old, by Vatican law Benedict cannot take part in the Conclave to elect the next Pope, and if he made any statements on it or any overt preferences public, it would be looked upon by Vatican insiders as extremely poor form. However, because of the way the Vatican hierarchy works, it is probably already well known who he would like to succeed him. The public, however, will probably never know for sure.
The press has already put forward a list of likely candidates despite veteran Vatican watchers' warnings that Papal Conclaves are almost impossible to handicap, especially ones that contain "special circumstances" as this one does. Predictions of a "guaranteed winner" should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Even so, the following are cardinals that the media have chosen to be on the shortlist of the Conclave's 117 cardinal-electors:
Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson is a Ghanaian who runs the Vatican's development department. In his favor are the facts that he is relatively young, 64, and that the Catholic Church is very strong in Africa. He may have eliminated himself, however, when he presided over the recent showing of a controversial video suggesting Muslims would soon take over Europe through demographics.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, is a safe 68 years old and was mentioned as a candidate in 2005. He oversaw a cleanup of the church in Austria after its pedophile scandals, and some see this as a plus during a time when the Church needs to clean up its continuing problem with priestly pederasty worldwide.
Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, is 71 and a confidant of the current Pope. Being Italian and overseeing a big diocese gives him great credibility among electors who desire experience and favor papal supremacy and a continuation of Benedict's conservatism.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 70, the archbishop of Genoa, is an Italian of strong intellect and political acumen. He is widely known for his scathing criticism of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the state of Italian politics.
Cardinal Norberto Carrera Rivera, 62, from Mexico City; Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, from Sao Paulo; and Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, 70, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are also probably candidates due to the fact that they all hail from Latin America, the area of the world with the most Catholics. Rivera and Scherer would take the Church toward a social gospel, while Maradiaga lines up squarely behind Pope Benedict.
Some believe that the electors will have a younger, more vigorous man in mind when they meet in March. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and a media favorite, is only 63, but his views are decidedly left of Benedict's. Cardinal Peter Erdo, of Budapest, is only 60. He is a traditionalist and President of the Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe. Finally, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, formerly archbishop of Quebec City, Canada, and now head of the Vatican's Department of Bishops, is a conservative ally of Pope Benedict.
There is no telling who the cardinals will pick when they meet next month, but it is certain that their choice will make his mark on upcoming events.