VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced he would resign, citing old age, in a stunning announcement that marked a first in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
The German-born pope said he would step down on February 28, which will make him the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
“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,” the 85-year-old pope said in a speech delivered in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican.
Dressed in red vestments and his voice barely audible as he read from a written text, the pope made the announcement in a hall in his residence— the Apostolic Palace next to St Peter’s Square.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he expected a conclave of cardinals to be held in March within 15 or 20 days of the resignation and a new pope elected before Easter Sunday on March 31.
It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope—to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.
Several papal contenders
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner—the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Benedict, an academic theologian who has written numerous books including a trilogy on the life of Jesus Christ that he completed last Christmas, will retire to a monastery within the Vatican walls.
“In order to govern the ship 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 fulfil the ministry entrusted to me,” the pope said.
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours (1900 GMT), the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked,” he said.
Tributes poured in for Benedict from around the world including his native Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had the “greatest respect” for his decision, and hailed him as “one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time.”
French President Francois Hollande said the pope’s decision was “eminently respectable.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the pope had worked “tirelessly” to boost ties with Britain.
Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was the Catholic Church’s doctrinal enforcer for many years and earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.”
He was elected in 2005 at a time when the Vatican was being rocked by multiple scandals over child abuse committed by priests.
The guiding principle of his papacy has been to reinvigorate the Catholic faith, particularly among young people and in countries with rising levels of secularism like Europe and North America.
Benedict has championed Christianity’s European roots and showed his conservatism by repeatedly stressing family values and fiercely opposing abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.
Pope Benedict, who has looked increasingly weary in recent months and often has to use a mobile platform to move around St Peter’s basilica during Church services, had hinted in a book of interviews in 2010 that he might resign if he felt he was no longer able to carry out his duties.
The scandal over confidential memos leaked from the Vatican by the pope’s once loyal butler last year was a particularly hard blow for the pope.
‘Caught by surprise’
“The pope caught us a bit by surprise,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a hastily arranged press conference.
Lombardi stressed that the pope’s decision was his own and was “well thought out” and that “there is no illness that has contributed to it.”
In recent years, however, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. He now goes to and from the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica on a moving platform, to spare him the long walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane.
His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, said doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.
“His age is weighing on him,” Ratzinger told the DPA news agency. “At this age my brother wants more rest.”
Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope—the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide—requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“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,” he told the cardinals.
“In order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary—strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said.
Allowed to resign
Popes are allowed to resign; Church law specifies only that the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested.” But only a handful have done it.
The only other pope to resign because he felt unable to fulfil his duties was Celestine V in 1294, a hermit who stepped down after just a few months in office saying he yearned for a simpler life and was not physically capable for the office.
In 1415, Gregory XII resigned in a bid to end the “Western Schism,” when two rival claimants declared themselves pope in Pisa and Avignon and threatened to tear apart Roman Catholicism.
Other popes have stepped down for a variety of reasons in the papacy’s mediaeval history.
When Benedict was elected at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years. At the time, he has already been planning to retire as the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria.
On Monday, Benedict said he would serve the church for the remainder of his days “through a life dedicated to prayer.” The Vatican said immediately after his resignation, Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then would live in a cloistered monastery.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope’s conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn’t need a pope from a “superpower.”
Given half of the world’s Catholics live in the global south, there will once again be arguments for a pope to come from the developing world.
Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, has impressed many Vatican watchers, but at 56 and having only been named a cardinal last year, he is considered too young.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is one of the highest-ranking African cardinals at the Vatican, currently heading the Vatican’s office for justice and peace, but he’s something of a wild card.
All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.
The pontiff had been due to attend World Youth Day in July in Rio de Janeiro; by then his successor will have been named and will presumably make the trip.
A priest speaks to journalist outside St. Peter’s Square after it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 11, 2013 in Rome. An Italian journalist who beat the world’s media on Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign got the scoop on the utterly unexpected news thanks to her knowledge of Latin.
VATICAN CITY—An Italian journalist who beat the world’s media on Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign got the scoop on the utterly unexpected news thanks to her knowledge of Latin.
“Our Vatican expert Giovanna Chirri was listening to the pope’s speech,” the ANSA news agency’s head of information Luigi Contu told AFP.
“At one point, the pope stopped talking about the consistory. Chirri understood he was saying he was tired, that the pressure was too much, and that he was going to stop,” he said.
Chirri rushed to call Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi to confirm the news but got no reply.
In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.
At that point Lombardi rang back and at 11:46 a.m. (1046 GMT) ANSA’s alert was picked up by news agencies around the world.
“This is a strong argument for culture in training future journalists,” Contu said with a chuckle.
Congratulated by her colleagues, Chirri played down her success, tweeting: “Benedict XVI’s Latin is very easy to understand.”
The world seems surprised that an 85-year-old globe-trotting pope who just started tweeting wants to resign, but should it be? Maybe what should be surprising is that more leaders his age do not, considering the toll aging takes on bodies and minds amid a culture of constant communication and change.
There may be more behind the story of why Pope Benedict XVI decided to leave a job normally held for life. But the pontiff made it about age. He said the job called for “both strength of mind and body” and said his was deteriorating. He spoke of “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes,” implying a difficulty keeping up.
“Usually a man who is entirely healthy in his early 80s has demonstrated his survival prowess” and can live much longer, said Dr. Thomas Perls, an expert on aging at Boston University and director of the New England Centenarians Study. The pope’s comments about strength of mind “does make one worry that he is concerned about his mind,” Perls said.
But aging alone is reason enough. It has driven many from jobs that used to be for life—Supreme Court justices, monarchs and other heads of state. As lifetimes expand, the woes of old age are catching up with more in seats of power. Some are choosing to step down rather than suffer long, public declines and disabilities as the pope’s last predecessor did.
Since 1955, only one US Supreme Court justice—Chief Justice William Rehnquist—has died in office. Twenty-one others chose to retire.
One in five US senators is 70 or older, and some have retired rather than seek new terms, such as Hawaii’s Daniel Akaka, who left office in January at age 88.
The Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix, who just turned 75, recently said she will pass the crown to a son and put the country “in the hands of a new generation.”
BERLIN—World political and religious leaders praised Pope Benedict XVI for bolstering interreligious ties and showing leadership to the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, hailing him as one of today’s “most significant religious thinkers.”
Plaudits and messages of respect poured in from around the globe following the shock announcement that the 85-year-old pontiff would step down this month due to old age, though victims of the Church’s abuse scandal welcomed the move from a man they said had done little to help them.
“He is and remains one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time,” Chancellor Angela Merkel, a pastor’s daughter, said in a glowing tribute in the pope’s native Germany.
US President Barack Obama offered appreciation and prayers on behalf of all Americans to Benedict, saying he and his wife, Michelle, warmly remembered meeting him in 2009.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has “always had great respect for the pope and his work on interfaith dialogue and other global challenges,” United Nations spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Benedict would be “missed as a spiritual leader to millions” who had “worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See.”
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano saluted the pontiff’s “courage” over his decision, making him the first pontiff in more than six centuries to step down after nearly eight years as pope.
In the mainly Catholic Philippines, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino highlighted the sympathy the pontiff expressed for Filipinos when the country was hit by deadly storms and other disasters.
And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard praised the pope’s decision for its “humility.”
“On his election, Joseph Ratzinger said he wished to be ‘a simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord’ and in his resignation that humility has been amply demonstrated,” Gillard was quoted by Australian Associated Press (AAP) news agency as saying in a statement.
Joseph Ratzinger was the pope’s name before he was made pontiff.
From other world religions, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger told AFP that Benedict had improved ties between Judaism and Christianity which helped reduce anti-Semitism around the world.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said Benedict’s papacy had “elevated Catholic-Jewish relations onto an unprecedented level.”
“No pope before him visited as many synagogues. He met with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations,” he said in a written statement.
Justin Welby, who is head of the 85-million strong worldwide Anglican communion as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, said Benedict held his office with “great dignity, insight and courage.”
During his historic 2010 visit to Britain, the pope proved “a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question,” said Welby.
Bishops in Spain—a country the pope visited three times—said they felt “orphaned” by his resignation, adding they had felt “secure and enlightened by his rich teaching and his paternal closeness,” in a statement from the head of Spain’s Catholic Church.
From Serbia to Mexico, the US and Uganda, leading religious figures expressed similar sentiments praising the pontiff’s competence and leadership.
A ‘more quiet’ style
In Uganda, Joseph Kazibwe Ntuwa, the chancellor of Kampala archdiocese, commented that Benedict had had a different, “more quiet” style of leadership than his predecessor John Paul II.
Benedict’s leadership on core issues such as abortion and contraception had met with approval from Africa’s traditionally more conservative Catholics, he added.
But groups representing victims of child abuse in Catholic-run institutions welcomed the resignation.
“This pope had a great opportunity to finally address the decades of abuse in the Church but at the end of the day he did nothing but promise everything and in the end he ultimately delivered nothing,” John Kelly, of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse support group, told AFP.
In Australia, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement saying the pontiff had done little to stop “the reign of terror of child rapist priests,” according to AAP.
The US branch of SNAP said the pope “still has two weeks” to take action against child sex abuse by Church staff.
“Before he steps down, we hope he will show true leadership and compassion and take tangible action to safeguard vulnerable children,” the group said in a statement.
Pope Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in the predominantly Catholic southern German region of Bavaria, whose state premier Horst Seehofer said the decision deserved the “greatest respect even though I personally deeply regret it.”
RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazilian Catholic bishops on Monday hailed the “humility and greatness” of Pope Benedict XVI on learning of his imminent resignation due to old age.
“We greet with filial love the reasons given by his holiness, sign of the humility and greatness which characterized the eight years of his pontificate,” they said in a statement.
The German-born leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics announced earlier Monday that he would resign on February 28 due to old age, after just eight years as pope, one of the shortest pontificates in modern history.
The Rio archdiocese, meanwhile, said the Catholic World Youth Day festival would take place here in July as scheduled despite the papal announcement.
“WYD will be maintained. The resignation of the pope changes nothing,” Adionel da Cunha, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
Rio Archbishop Orani Tempesta also confirmed that the event was still on and that Benedict XVI’s successor would attend.
“We do not anticipate an absence of the pope. It’s a tradition to have the pope,” the G1 news website quoted him as saying.
An estimated two million youths from around the world are expected to attend the event, slated for July 23-28.
It will be the second time that the youth festival is held in Latin America, after Buenos Aires in 1987.
Brazil has an estimated 125 million Catholics, and is the largest mostly Roman Catholic country in the world.
Darci Nicioli, the auxiliary bishop of the Sao Paulo pilgrimage city of Aparecida, said the papal decision was in line with canon law.
“We accept it with pain,” he added.
Aparecida is home to Our Lady of Aparecida, a venerated clay statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the main patroness of Brazil.
Nicioli said several Brazilian cardinals could become the next pope.
They include Raymundo Damasceno, the current Aparecida archbishop and president of the National Conference of Brazilian bishops; Claudio Hummes; and Odilo Scherer, the German-Brazilian archbishop of Sao Paulo who is said to be close to Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing age and waning energy
By Anthony Faiola and Michelle Boorstein, Feb 11, 2013 09:59 PM EST
The Washington Post
Published: February 11 | Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 5:59 AM
LONDON — Citing failing strength of “mind and body,” Pope Benedict XVI stunned his closest aides and more than 1 billion Catholics by resigning on Monday, becoming the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years and ending the tenure of a formidable theologian who preached a gospel of conservative faith to a fast-changing world.
Keeping with his reputation as a traditionalist, Pope Benedict delivered his resignation — effective Feb. 28 — in Latin, to a private church body in Vatican City. “I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said. “For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter.”
The decision by the 85-year-old German pontiff sets up a pivotal leadership contest in the marbled halls of the Vatican that is coming sooner than observers expected. Although questions about the pope’s health have long swirled — he was occasionally filmed nodding off during mass — he seemed committed to continuing a papacy that has divided Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
But the pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, also a priest, said the pontiff had informed him of his decision “months ago.”
“He has gotten tired faster and faster and walking has become hard for him,” Ratzinger said, adding that his brother — who was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger and ordained a priest in the aftermath of World War II — did “the best he possibly could have done” in his role.
The conclave to choose the next pope was expected to convene in mid-March, with a new pope in place in time to preside over Easter Mass at St. Peter Cathedral.
The pontiff departs amid a sense of crisis in the Vatican. The institution’s most recent problems involve a bevy of documents leaked by the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, to Italian journalists alleging corruption and heated disputes within the Vatican walls. The church also has faced criticism for its internal bank’s failures to comply with international rules governing money-laundering. The Vatican’s financial troubles escalated this year to the point where international banks temporarily suspended credit-card links at the Sistine Chapel, forcing tourists to use cash.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of his papacy has emerged in the spread of clerical sex abuse scandals from the United States into other places including Ireland and Germany, where the pope was born and served as archbishop. Critics have urged that more bishops be held accountable, and some raised questions about Benedict’s management of a case involving a German priest and sex offender while he was bishop of Munich in 1980.
Speaking in Rome on Monday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that the pope took his decision to resign “aware of the great problems the church faces today,” adding that the decision showed “great courage and determination.” He insisted, however, that the pope’s decision was personal, and that he had not resigned because of “difficulties in the papacy.” Benedict, Lombardi said, will not take part in the conclave to elect a new pope, adding that he is expected to retire to a monastery of cloistered nuns on the Vatican grounds.
Benedict had emerged as a crusader and a lighting rod since the moment white smoke over the Sistine Chapel heralded his arrival in 2005. He encouraged a revival of the Latin Mass and promoted traditionalists in the Vatican hierarchy, determined to amplify the church’s message of morality and the role of Roman Catholicism as the one true faith. He sought to win back conservative Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council of 1962, and attempted to recruit new members, including Anglicans disenchanted with liberal views on female as well as openly gay clergy in their denomination. In 2006, he ignited street protests in the Islamic world after repeating a negative quote about the prophet Muhammad.
But his defenders have always said Benedict was unfairly savaged by the media for actions that predated his tenure, and hailed his management of scandals, including issuing a rare official apology in 2010 to Catholics in Ireland for the widespread sexual abuse of children by clergy there in earlier decades. His decision to step aside to make way for a new and almost surely younger pope was hailed by many as another manifestation of his fierce generosity and goodwill.
The sudden end to his papacy presents the Vatican with a delicate choice: to elect a new pope that will represent continuity or one who will represent change. With the church declining in its former stronghold of Europe, but finding its future in Latin America, Africa and Asia, pressure already was growing on the college of cardinals — the global princes of the church — to break tradition by elevating a non-European pope.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, who last saw Benedict in Rome in October, said the announcement came as an “enormous surprise,’’ a statement that echoed sentiments worldwide.
“He presided at meeting after meeting after meeting,” Wuerl said. “There was no doubt that he was in full possession of his faculties.”
Benedict’s decision “says to me he is a very humble and honest person,” Wuerl added. “His love for the church is such that he has concluded it would be better not to try to lead this huge flock without the full strength of all of his energies.”
Some observers contend that the influence of the Vatican had receded under Benedict, in part because of his age but also because he operated in the shadow of his beloved and charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.
“He had a hard act to follow in John Paul, who was bigger than life,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic writer and former editor of America, a Catholic magazine. “Benedict suffered by comparison because he was much more shy, he wasn’t an actor, he preferred to write books and issue encyclicals rather than travel.”
Liberal Catholics have bemoaned his promotion of a generation of conservative bishops who believe the church will hold together best if its teachings are communicated as black and white. A symbol to them has been the crackdown on the largest group of U.S. nuns who the Vatican said were straying too far in their writings and lectures about homosexuality and contraception.
Traditional Catholics, however, celebrated his focus on orthodoxy.
“If you don’t sell full-throttle Catholicism, people are not going to buy it,” said George Weigel, who has written multiple books about the church and the pope. “Everyone knows the whole package is more compelling and interesting than some sort of Catholic hors d’oeuvres that leave you hungry.”
Michael Birnbaum in Berlin, Eliza Mackintosh in London and James Arkin in Washington contributed to this report.
Pope’s abdication may be simply the act of a conscientious manager
By Jason Horowitz, Feb 11, 2013 08:33 PM EST
The Washington Post
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 4:33 AM
Yes, Pope Benedict XVI came into the Vatican with the reputation as God’s Rottweiler. Yes, he was an archconservative who seemed to care a lot more about liturgical orthodoxy than the plight of the church’s progressives. Yes, he never escaped the shadow of the superstar and sanctified pope who preceded him. And yes, he largely failed in his placeholder pontificate to establish an emotional connection with the billions of people he led as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
But Benedict’s astonishing announcement Monday morning that he would be the first pope since Pope Gregory XII in 1417 to resign the papacy spoke directly to his less acknowledged, but perhaps more enduring and important legacy in one of the world’s most hermetic institutions: a modicum of accountability.
The pope who came to prominence for his theological genius and doctrinal enforcement distinguished himself within the Vatican for his unexpected willingness to bring greater transparency to the Roman Curia, a gerontocracy populated by department heads who oversee church governance with little to no accountability.
By telling cardinals Monday that “in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary,” Benedict, 85, essentially argued that something as mundane as management was important enough a cause for which to sacrifice the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
“The pope made his decision out of love for the church,” Greg Burke, the communications director for the Vatican, said. “It was a decision made out of humility and responsibility.”
In his eight years as pope, Benedict became most known for his public relations fiascoes, ranging from accidentally insulting Islam to unknowingly lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust denier to suggesting condoms were acceptable for male prostitutes. His tin ear to the modern universe and his lack of magnetism made him an easy mark, but they also acted as distractions from his efforts within the church hierarchy.
While his critics charge that he failed to use the full weight of his office to hold bishops and cardinals accountable for protecting child abusers in the priesthood, he took substantially greater steps than John Paul II to rid the church of what he called the “filth” of the priest sex abuse scandal. And while hardly anybody beside close followers of his pontificate noticed, Benedict enacted a 2010 Motu Proprio – Latin for a papal decree of “his own impulse” – that called for greater transparency in the church’s financial practices to combat money laundering and, more broadly, the church’s shadowy reputation for corruption. The decree allowed for vetting of church accounts by outside Council of European inspectors, a regular practice for modern governments but a revolutionary one for a millennia-old institution for which privacy is paramount.
That glasnost was not universally embraced in the Vatican, where many officials think the pope went too far to appease the outside world. There remains a strong current of thought within the Curia that if the church has survived this long with a medieval approach to governance, why buckle to outside demands now? But there is a competing view: If the church hoped to expand its flock in countries riddled by corruption, it first needed to clean up its act at home. Benedict seemed to understand this.
But in an atmosphere in which petty politics often obscured the big picture, the pope also seemed incapable of fighting back against the institutional reluctance to reform. His number two official, Tarcisio Bertone, the church’s secretary of state, who acts as the church’s de facto prime minister, was surrounded by other church leaders who often seemed more interested in their own agendas than in reform. The internecine battle between those powerful officials and the reformers recently spilled out into the open through the most shocking of security breaches.
The pope’s own butler, Paolo Gabriele, leaked the pontiff’s most intimate documents and correspondence, setting off a scandal that came to be known as VatiLeaks. Officials in the church were deeply dismayed and embarrassed. But the media, almost helpfully, paid more attention to the whodunit aspect of the scandal than the substance of the documents, which showed in excruciating detail the power plays between the reformers and the reactionaries.
In the most famous of the leaked letters, Carlo Maria Viganò, whom Benedict in 2009 appointed the de factor mayor of Vatican City, complained about top officials preventing his efforts to clean up the city-state. He was fired by Bertone.
“My transfer right now,” Viganò wrote in one of the leaked letters, “would provoke much disorientation and discouragement in those who have believed it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have been rooted in the management of so many departments.”
But Benedict shipped him off regardless, sending him to the United States as his nuncio, where he has a headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue, the equivalent of the Holy See in exile. The butler’s leaks also showed how top Vatican officials entrusted by the pope to enact his reforms succeeded in stripping his financial watchdog agency of teeth and blocking many of his efforts. Viganò and the butler both complained that the pope was being kept in the dark.
Ultimately, Benedict stood by Bertone. But cardinals and bishops and other officials in the Vatican, speaking privately, feel strongly that the pope was led astray by his closest advisers and bemoaned a management crisis in the church.
It is notable then that in his statement at a routine public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints today, the pope put his historic announcement in a management context. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God,” he said, “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.”
History may barely remember a pope who failed to overcome an enduring stigma as a member of the Hitler Youth, the hapless pope who came after John Paul II and before the church’s first New World pontiff. But it may recall a man who cared enough about getting his ship in order that he stepped aside so that a stronger hand could steer it.
In picking successor, Vatican must decide what’s needed in a 21st-century pope
By Michelle Boorstein, Feb 11, 2013 08:38 PM EST
The Washington Post
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 4:38 AM
Now that Pope Benedict XVI has made (modern) history by stepping down from office, so begins one of the Western World’s oldest parlor games: Guessing who will be the next pope.
Close watchers of the Vatican say the 118 cardinals who will select Benedict’s successor are watching the media-savvy leader of the massive Milan archdiocese, Cardinal Angelo Scola; top Vatican administrator Marc Ouellet, of Canada, and Peter Turkson of Ghana. Also in the mix is jovial New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who would make history, as a superpower pope has been frowned upon thus far.
The list is highly speculative. Unlike a presidential race, Vatican practice for centuries has barred public discussion about possible successors while a pope is alive, or anything that even whiffs of open campaigning. Since this pope is still alive, the voting cardinals are in unchartered waters and will likely meet in small groups to quietly brainstorm and discuss the possibilities until March, when their voting meeting, or conclave, will begin.
And when they vote, they will be doing more than picking a person; they’ll also be answering a question: What does it take to be a 21st-century pope?
Should the person be from the West, where Catholicism is locked in a liberal vs. conservative culture war, or from the developing world, where two-thirds of Catholics now live? Should he be someone who has spent time at the Vatican and can whip the struggling old bureaucracy into shape, or an outsider?
“It’s an inside-the-Beltway vs. outside kind of thing,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, former editor of the Catholic magazine America. “We’ve had two popes in a row who have been academics. It might be smart to look for someone who is a diplomat, or someone with some management skills. In the last two conclaves they’ve elected the smartest man in the room. It might be better to elect someone who will listen to all the other smart people in the church.”
The pope says he is stepping down at the end of February, and a conclave to pick his successor will begin two weeks later. There have been epic conclaves — including one that went on for 2 1/2 years — but most expect this to be speedy and for Catholics to have a new pope within a month.
Catholic debate in the United States often centers on whether the leader of the largest Christian community in the world should be more or less open to things such as allowing the ordination of female priests. But experts note that the cardinals were all picked by Benedict or his like-minded predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and are in agreement on issues like allowing female priests, contraception or equality for gays and lesbians (no, no and no).
The real factors behind the selection of a new pope are “not the kind of stuff that comes up on talk shows,” said John L. Allen Jr., who has written seven books on the Catholic Church and popes.
The top priority, Allen and others say, is to make Catholics evangelizers again. The church has spent much of the last half-century, since the modernizing and controversial Second Vatican Council, locked in internal debates and not out spreading the gospel. Many blame an antiquated communications style and system, one epitomized by the pope’s news-halting announcement Monday, which he delivered in Latin at a meeting of cardinals.
Pope Benedict did try in his own, scholarly way to communicate, by authoring more books than almost any other pope, and recently, he joined Twitter, immediately amassing hundreds of thousands of followers. But it seems the least traditional thing he did in his tenure was decide to resign from office.
Some note that the selection of a new pope is one of the most-watched moments for the Catholic Church and, as such, presents an opportunity for the Vatican to show how adept it can be at communicating its mission and values to the world.
There are numerous questions to answer, including a basic one a U.S. Catholic of Conference Bishops spokeswoman couldn’t answer on Monday: What do you call a living retired pope?
“Trying to figure that out now,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh said in an e-mail.
And how much influence will he have on a successor?
“One of the biggest challenges he’ll leave his successor is: How to act toward a retired pope? How much voice will a retired pope have, if any? Do you draw on his wisdom? Do you ask him to participate? What if you disagree with one of the policies? Do you make sure no one knows because it could cause confusion? These are unanswered questions,” said John Thavis, a journalist who recently published “The Vatican Diaries,” about the inner-workings in Rome.