Pope Benedict XVI is resigning

Well, here’s something that doesn’t happen every century: “Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing age.”

In a move that took the world by surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced [today] that he will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, with plans to step down on Feb. 28.

“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,” Benedict told cardinals as they gathered in Rome for the proclamation of new saints.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said preparations for the conclave that will elect Benedict’s successor are in the early stages.

A papal election could be expected “within 10 to 15 days” after the resignation, he said. “We should have a new pope by Easter.”

Here’s the text of the pope’s resignation speech.

Let me get this out of the way first: If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.

OK, then.

That “first pope in 600 years to resign” line in all the reporting on this refers back to Gregory XII, during the Western Schism, when there were popes all over the place. That resignation was part of the attempt to get the Vatican back to the Vatican, so it’s not really similar to the voluntary resignation Benedict XVI announced today. The last time a pope left the office this way was more than 700 years ago, when Celestine V stepped down in 1294. (Josh Marshall is trying to sort out the history of all this.)

To put that in perspective, it’s been less than 17 years since the Catholic Church kept slaves. (Yes, in 1996, Bill Clinton was president, Yahoo’s search-engine was two years old, and the Roman Catholic Church had slaves.)

News agencies are hastily editing the reports from their ready-to-go obit files to produce retrospectives on Benedict’s seven-year papacy. Read the Reuters report Internet Monk posted and you’ll note the distinctly obituarial tone of such pieces. (The practice of pre-writing obituaries may seem ghoulish to those outside the news biz, but it’s a prudent, necessary measure.)

CNN’s Belief Blog also dips into that obit file for a helpful sidebar of “Facts About Pope Benedict XVI.”

William Lindsey has a good round-up of initial responses. I like John Dwyer’s suggestion: “Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. for Pope!” And I agree with Chris Hayes, “Call me crazy, but I think the next pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.”

Andrew Sullivan also has a good collection of responses from Catholic bloggers and writers.

Daniel Horan has a quick look at what Catholic canon law does and doesn’t say about papal resignations. The odd factor being that, “the Pope does not answer to anyone, so there is no ‘technical’ recipient of his resignation. All other bishops resign to him.”

As Andrew Brown observes, “the papacy remains the last absolute monarchy in Europe,” and such regimes are “traditionally renewed by death or disease.”

Brown thinks the current pope’s experience during the waning years of John Paul II’s papacy may have convinced him that the church would be better served by resignation than by a prolonged decline:

During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties.

Whether or not that experience influenced Benedict’s decision, that is the explanation he provides, writing, “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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

That’s wise. It seems in the best interests of both himself and the institution he oversees. There may be very little precedent for a papal resignation, but perhaps Benedict’s example will set a constructive precedent for his successors. When one is 85 years old and one’s “strength of mind and body” are no longer what the job demands, stepping down is a good thing.

That’s why Wonkette’s headline — “Pope Pulls a Palin” — may be a funny crack (at Sarah Palin), but the difference between his resignation and hers is telling. She was a young, healthy governor half-way through her first term in elected office when she just quit, walking away from the responsibilities that had been entrusted to her. At 85, after a lifetime in the church, Benedict isn’t a quitter. And his willingness to relinquish power seems more responsible to me than if he had taken the route of his predecessor, stubbornly clinging to power with increasingly unsteady hands.

Hemant Mehta suggests that others with lifetime appointments might learn from Benedict’s example and also take this sensible option of not overstaying their faculties:

Note to Justice Antonin Scalia, a man who is 76, fervently Catholic, and also holds a life term: Take the hint. It’s OK to step down.

See also this from Goblinbooks: “‘Don’t Believe HR About Why I Left,’ by Pope Benedict.”


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  • Of course Ellenjay knew this was going to happen – simply take two words from Ex 21:6 “He shall”, one from Eccl 10:4 “resign”, three from Luke 2:37 “aged 84 years”, and two from Lev27:27 “plus one”.

    All very literal and obvious.

    Now who’ll give odds on the next papal name being Nicolae I?

    (Typo edited)

  • Wednesday

    The head of one branch of my campus’s food services also announced his resignation today.  In his two-year tenure, he transformed the campus cafe’s menu from Greasy Blah to genuinely varied and tasty (with somewhat healthful offerings), and oversaw the renovation of the cafe and the campus coffee shop.

    During Pope Benedict’s tenure, he condemned humanists for doing good for the sake of helping others, called gays and lesbians an ecological danger to humanity, blamed gays for the church’s history of child abuse (never mind girls were abused too), chided Sisters for spending too much energy helping people instead of hating gays and birth control, and applauded the passage of a no-exceptions abortion ban whose text specifically stated that abortion is never medically necessary to protect the mother’s health or life.

    I’m pretty sure I’ll be missing Drew (the food services guy) more than Pope Benedict.

  • Raymond

    “Call me crazy, but I think the next pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.”

    Or actively lie about condoms to trick people into not using them in Africa.

  • Darkrose

    Fred, you left out the really sad part of Chris Hayes’ tweet:

    Call me crazy, but I think the next Pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.Tho,that may disqualify every single cardinal

    He’s probably right.

  • Let me get this out of the way first: If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.

    But you’d make a good Pope.  You’d need a doctrine adviser (for the record, I recommend Hapax) because you’re not a Catholic and should not impose Baptistness on them, but I bet you could do more to help the Catholic Church out of its scandals than most of those who are likely to get the position because my impression of you is that you would order that all documentation be turned over to the relevant authorities and all church members assist the authorities in any way they can.

    That in itself would do more to set the Catholic Church on the right path than anything related to the difference between a Catholic and Baptist.

    Ok, now to read the rest of the post.

  • Otrame

    He’s been told he is dying and he wants to influence who will be the next Pope. We can be sure that the next Pope help cover up child rapists too.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I hope they elect Monsignor Martinez. He’s about the only priest I can think of who could clean up the Vatican.

    Vaya con dios.

  • There was a buzz of excitement when JPII (that bastard) finally kicked the bucket, because some people thought the college of cardinals would elect a Pope from Latin America, i.e. someone who has a different and hopefully more progressive viewpoint than some old hidebound fart from Europe.

    Given the track record here I’m not holding my breath.

  • Fine, I nominate the Irish guy (Bishop?  Archbishop?  Don’t remember) who decided that cooperation rather than cover up was the best response to the sex abuse and ordered that cooperation be carried out as soon as he got his post.  Anyone know who I’m talking about?  Are there any things he’s done to make us tend toward the conclusion that he is evil in some other way?

    If not, either he or the leader of the nuns on the bus* is my vote.

    *She sent me an email, not a form letter with her name attached, an actual email she appeared to have written herself, in response to me sending one off to her saying, more or less, that I thought the work she was doing was important. This has no bearing on anything, but I felt like sharing it.

  • histrogeek

     I’d agree, though the pastoral bishops may finally awake to the problems of picking someone straight out of the Curia. Some of Ratzi’s earlier screw-ups as Pope were a result of being in the bubble too long. His worst screw-up of course was continuing the same policy as JP2 on protecting the cleric caste over everyone else.

  • Magic_Cracker

    What are the odds on Joan II?

  • histrogeek

     Probably does, even ones who have been active participants had to keep up the policies of everyone else, that is cover-up and shut-up, or else the extent would be have been known much earlier.
    At this rate, the best we can hope for is someone who will make a serious effort to purge the abusers (just pretend they support birth control), opens the records, and makes appropriately grovelling apologies to every one of the victims.

  • schismtracer

    Chris Hayes: “Call me crazy, but I think the next pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.”

    The RCC is too big on tradition to abandon one that well-entrenched.  They might as well cancel mass.

  • chris is thinking of Archbishiop Diarmuid Martin. I don’t know much about him, but what I do know suggests he’s a reasonably good egg.


  • All the snark, all the remarks, and yet I’ find myself unaccountably saddened at Pope Benedict’s stepping down. There was something in the man that inspired me, can’t say what.
    He’s probably doing the best thing, leaving while still in relative health, and yet I weep. 
    (and yes I am aware of all the scandals, problems).
    He’s beautiful.

  • Ursula L

    This seems to me to be possibly a move to try and maintain control.  If BXVI were to live out his term, then he has no control over who takes over after him.  But this way, he has the chance to choose his moment, to plan and politic and make deals to ensure that his successor is someone he approves of. 

    In any organization, the timing of the resignation of top management is often carefully orchestrated to create a desired outcome.Listening to NPR an  hour or so ago, they were interviewing a cardinal who said that he’d known for a while that this was coming.  This isn’t about radical change, it is about engineering the succession to avoid unwanted change.  

  • Carstonio

    How much more conservative has Ratzinger been over Wojtyła? I had the impression that the differences were slight, despite the common impression of Wojtyla being more personable.

    My personal hope is that his successor reins in the US bishops and their interference in health politics here. But since I’m not Catholic, I suspect that my opinion would be unwelcome, even by people who agree with me about the bishops. So any Catholics here are free to tell me to mind my own theological business.

  •  If you could say what it was that inspired you, I would be interested in knowing.
    Regardless, I hope you find inspiration elsewhere in his absence.

  • Otrame


    He. is. not. beautiful.  I am not talking about his looks.  He has a sense of morality so twisted that it causes nothing but harm. He has perpetuated the cover-up of thousands of cases of child abuse, and in doing so has severely damaged his own church.  He is not beautiful. 

    He will control who gets the papacy next which means that the next Pope will be the same. The Vatican will continue to lie about condoms to Africans, try to blame LGBT people for all the ills of the world and claim that secularism is the root of all evil while continuing to cover up the institutional protection of rapists, meanwhile using “accounting” so dodgy that the Vatican bank is on the verge of getting blacklisted in banking circles. He sits on his throne of gold while children starve.  He is not fucking beautiful.

  • The USA Today’s pre-written “who’s going to be the next pope” hit the web with one “the late pope” reference still extant.  It has since been corrected, but whoops!

  • aunursa

    Commemorating the Pope’s tenure is a task that is gladly accepted by the Jewish community. For no matter how silly the idea of having a single religious leader might be to us, in the spirit of interfaith relations we must be gracious and considerate.

  • picklefactory

    “Snark” is not what I feel when I think about the Pope. I think “rage” would be more on the mark.

  • He will be missed.

  • stardreamer42

     That was just what I was going to say. Are there any cardinals who have not been involved in the rape cover-up?

  • Foelhe

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.

    Yeah, I’ve got no grounds to judge the pope on theological grounds. I’m not Catholic. But the Catholic church has spent enough time sticking their nose into political issues and that’s something I do care about. If the pope insists on causing political trouble then I insist on caring about his positions.

    That’s rotten luck for the Catholics who want their leaders to be judged by their fellow congregants, not by anyone on the street, but I’m not the one who set up that situation and I’m not going to apologize if I have to criticize it.

  • I am a baptized Catholic male, as legally eligible to be Pope as any cardinal, support my candidacy;  and I promise to bring Discordianism on a trillion dollar budget to the world. 

    Priestal wardrobe, which is already both as absurd and legitimately fly as can possibly be, shall remain exactly as is. 

  • Darkrose

    I wouldn’t be too sure that a Pope from the developing world would be more progressive. The loudest voices to push the Episcopal Churches of the US and Canada out of the Anglican Communion have mostly come from the so-called “Southern Cone” region, including that horrible homophobic and sexist Nigerian bishop whose name I can’t remember and don’t want to look up because he’s such a tool.

  • Foreigner

    Damned if I know what a pope’s for. Even as an atheist, I can see (have seen) the value a good pastor/miniister/rabbi can give to their flock and their community, and the often excellent work they do, but I’m shot if I know what good a bishop is to anybody, let alone a World Uberbishop. Let the position fall vacant, would be my vote, if I had one, which I don’t, not being any kind of cardinal.

  • Darkrose

    I’m honestly curious; could you expand? 

  • Darkrose

    But since I’m not Catholic, I suspect that my opinion would be unwelcome, even by people who agree with me about the bishops. So any Catholics here are free to tell me to mind my own theological business.

    Until the USCCB decides to mind their own fucking business–which mostly seems to involve obsessing over other people’s fucking–I’m certainly not going to refrain from expressing my opinion on them except for the sake of not posting long, profanity-laced screeds on Fred’s blog.

  • I’d only support a candidate for the position who promised to dissolve the church and return its billions to the poor it’s supposedly tasked to lift out of poverty.

    Sadly, I don’t wear a funny hat or cover for pedophiles, so I don’t get a vote.

  • Carstonio


    But the Catholic church has spent enough time sticking their nose into
    political issues and that’s something I do care about. If the pope
    insists on causing political trouble then I insist on caring about his

    I agree. I wasn’t talking about the specific positions of whoever holds the office. Just as the bishops are interfering in the US political process, I speculated that Catholics might see me as sticking my nose in the papal selection process, despite the fact that everyone is affected by the outcome.

  • Yesterday I watched the documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” and I’m pondering a few things discussed in the film as I take in the news about the Pope’s resignation.  One, that the sexual abuse crisis is only going to increase as priests abusing kids in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are reported, and two, that Benedict is under more and more scrutiny for his handling of the abuse while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  I find myself wondering if, in addition to his failing health, he sees the growing storm and wants to fade from the spotlight and not further damage the credibility of the papacy.

  • Foelhe

    I know, I just don’t agree. The Catholic church has become a partly political organization. I’m going to have an opinion about what it does in that arena. If someone thinks I’m “sticking my nose in”… well, tough.

    Which sucks for good Catholics who don’t want outsiders deciding their theological policies. I sympathize. But until the pope and cardinals restrict their power to Catholics, Catholics can’t complain when non-Catholics get involved.

  • Foelhe

    You need to do something about the papal hat, though. Not nearly enough moving parts.

  • markedward

    You know, a friend and I were just talking last night. He said that, since the whole Mayan calendar doomsday cult is done and over with, the next thing on the list is the Prophecy of the Popes. Lo and behold, the next morning the current pope announces his resignation.

    Petrus Romanus cometh.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m not Catholic, but I’ll gladly make the sacrifice of wearing that hat if they just put me in charge for an afternoon. I’ll show them infallible.

  • Madhabmatics

    I don’t think any of us here can actually stick our noses in this unless we are secret bishops under assumed names or something, idk if “has an opinion and talks about it in the comments section of a blog” counts as sticking our noses in or deciding anything

  • Carstonio

    We’re not that far apart. Damned right that the Church is political as well as religious, and its policies and theologies are fair game for criticism by anyone. My point is limited to who gets selected as Pope. Given the Church’s power, I have a strong stake like anyone else in who gets selected for the papacy, although I have no idea who the likely candidates are.

    I just felt it necessary to include a caveat, because I anticipated Catholics feeling territorial and resentful, misinterpreting my opinion as a non-Catholic trying to decide their theological destiny.

  • The bishops mitre (ahem) needs no improvements except maybe a smoke machine, and a little speaker blasting Kraftwerk wherever he goes. 

  • John (not McCain)

    Good riddance to worthless trash.

  • Hasn’t there been a persistent belief that the Pope following Benedict will be the Antichrist? 

    If so, he’s got an awesome theme song. By faithful Catholics, even!

  • <“Call me crazy, but I think the next pope should be someone who didn’t help cover up child rape.”

    Or the rape of teenage girls and adult women.

  • Resigning is more honest, but I sort of wish he kept up the pretense and hired Ian McDiarmid to do his appearances. You have to admit the resemblance is astonishing. 

  • The Catholic church has become a partly political organization.

    The Catholic Church has always been a decidedly political organization from its inception. There was a very short period when it sort of tried not to be. That was so far from the Catholic Church’s norm, it’s almost shocking in retrospect.

    At least they don’t invade other countries any longer.

  • Veylon

    If they were really worried about the Petrus Romanus thing, couldn’t they just seal Benedict in carbonite and declare him the Eternal Pope? Problem solved.

  • There was something in the man that inspired me, can’t say what.

    Let’s see… his hatred of non-straight people? His hatred of women? His hatred of rape victims? His culpability in the spread of AIDS in Africa?

    He’s hideous, and anyone who cannot see it frightens me.

  • Foelhe

    Yeah, I guess “has become” was sort of a silly thing to say not five threads after we were discussing the inquisitions.

  • AnonymousSam

    In related news…


    Ugh. Why don’t they just come out and say it: they want to control women. Pure and simple.

  • I would like to nominate our Deird as the next pope, btw. Since I’m an atheist-former-Lutheran that means less than nothing, but I wanna do it anyway.