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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  • Jessica_R

    Yeah, I can’t work up any interest in this because it really should be “The Pope is resigning…as he was convicted on umpteen counts of covering up child sexual assault and now is going to jail for a good long while.” It’s what he deserves, the gilt and fine linen replaced by a polyester jumpsuit. And instead of a library of first editions listening for the squeaky wheel of the book cart for a trustee to hand him a battered Dean Koontz paperback through the bars. Fie on him. 

  • P J Evans

     Better yet, a battered Danielle Steele paperback.

  • Jessica_R

    Or even better, a battered copy of Dorothy Day’s writings. 

  • A new pope straight up naming himself ‘Peter II’ or anything like that is unlikely.  There’s an understanding against it, it wouldn’t be proper for the infallible Vicar of Christ to be so immodest as that. 

  • Madhabmatics

     I want the next pope to take the name “Urban” so that republican rants become really hilarious during his reign

    “These Urban youths…”

  • Is there an understanding about a pope picking a new name altogether, one that hasn’t been done before? Obviously popes must have done so in times past, or we’d have Pope Linus CCLXV, working on CCLXVI by now.

  •  Personally, I’m hoping for Pope Corky IX.

  • aunursa

    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.

    I suspect that many past and present Supreme Court justices, including Scalia, want to retire at a time when the replacement will be nominated by a president from his or her political party.  It doesn’t always work out that way, due to health considerations.  I expect that Justice Ginsburg (who has her own health considerations) plans to retire sometime during the next three years to ensure that a Democratic president will appoint her successor.

    I am reminded of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who probably wanted to retire during the 1980’s, but held out in vain for the election of a Democratic president, until his declining health forced the issue in 1991.  One of his great disappointments was that a Republican would appoint his replacement, whose presence would undoubtably shift the Court to the right.  Ironically, Marshall died four days after President Clinton’s inauguration.

  • aunursa

    Is there an understanding about a pope picking a new name altogether, one that hasn’t been done before? Obviously popes must have done so in times past, or we’d have Pope Linus CCLXV, working on CCLXVI by now.

    You mean like Pope John Paul I, who took his name from his immediate predecessors?

  •  Does not Discordianism say that you are *already* the Pope (of the PoEE, if not the RCC).

  • Victor Savard

    Some of your fans are really disappointed in you Fred for admitting that you have no interest in becoming a “Pope”.  I ask ya! Who’s going to defend some of your faithful from stuff like this,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7bM3RvZ7Xw and who’s going to protect U>S (usual sinners) from the likes of these  http://secretinformationclub.com/pope-benedict-on-homosexual-marriage  harnessed so called gods who want to turn some things into a holy spiritual war, NOW?

    Go Figure! :)


  • Donalbain

    “He will be missed.”

    Sadly this is true. There are always people who mourn the passing of evil.

  • I’d un-renounce Catholicism, pretend to believe in god, and get a sex change if it meant I could be the next pope. Not because of any religious reason, but because my first act as Pope would be to put the entire Vatican library online, and open all the vaults to historians and archaeologists.

    On an unrelated note, inspired by a comment at shakesville:

    Sorry, Benedict. You’ll be forced to carry your papacy to term, even though it’s destroying your health. You took on the responsibility, and now you have to live with the consequences.

  • No, I meant a completely new name, like Pope Gerald I or something.

  • I was on break at work when I heard the news (via Twitter on my phone). My thought processes went something like.

    #pope? What’s he said now?
    New Pope? Wait has he died? *clicks link*
    The Pope’s done what now?!

  •  Flattered as I am, I don’t like the Vatican’s decor at all – and my Latin isn’t anywhere near good enough. :)

  • Foelhe

    I agree that we’re not that far apart, but I think I’m not making my point entirely clear. I was specifically responding to this point you made 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.”

    I don’t blame Catholics for being irritated with the situation, but anyone who tells me to mind my own business on this had better expect a shouting match. If you don’t want outsiders to care what you’re doing, take it up with the bishops, not me.

  • AnonCollie

    As one of the regular Catholics around here, albeit one who as frustrated with the upper echelons of my faith as any, I’m kind of nonplussed to hopeful about all of this.

    John Paul II was a diplomat, and at least cared about the people he served, or at least it always seemed that way to me. Benedict has not been nearly what his predecessor was; not even close.

    I have hopes that my church will finally adopt a leader who can be at the very least reasonably “moderate,” because I’m well aware the liberal minority among the Cardinals has no chance of coming close.

    But I’m also fearful that the super-conservative segment along the lines of disgraced Cardinal Law or the cheese grater-diplomacy Cardinal Burke could take the top slot. And if that happens…

    If that happens I may just walk for good. And that’s not easy for anyone who’s been cradle catholic, as I’m sure others can attest. It’s not just religious familiarity or nostalgia that keeps it around; it’s a cultural, sometimes tribalistic bind that keeps us around.

    Because we know the Church can be better. Should be better. And despite the men in funny hats; we’ll keep hoping for that better Church to come along. But morale for a faith that seems to be more and more bed with politics instead of justice is straining out with a slow drip, drip, drip.

  • aunursa

    I don’t know.  Interestingly changing one’s name upon becoming pope is a tradition, but not a requirement.  The first time a pope changed his name was in 533, and the last time a pope did not change his name was in 1555.

  • Hth

    I’ll sort of miss ol’ Maledictus.  The next guy will probably be just as douchey, and less amusing on account of not being *clearly a zombie.*

  • Carstonio

    Heh. I’m a Carlin fan and I hadn’t heard that joke.

    I was surprised to learn that regnal names in the UK aren’t necessarily the given names, including two from the 20th century. But apparently with Popes it’s a requirement. I wonder if Ratzinger knew the meaning of Benedict in the US.

    The concept of the antipope sounds like Revelation meets Revenge of the Sith. The Coptic Orthodox Church once had a pope named Damian.

  •  We need another John XXIII who’ll be elected as a compromise and then completely blindside them. Vatican III, anyone?

  • LouisDoench

    My friend Karl said it best…
    ‎”Benedict said in a statement today that he was retiring to spend more time searching for his Precious, which was stolen from him by the nasty Baggins.”

  • John Paul II was a diplomat,

    yes, he knew how to say he thought gay people should FOAD without actually saying it.

    So diplomatic.

  • Lorehead

    If the Cardinals are serious about wanting to restore the reputation of the Catholic Church, the single best thing they could do would be to turn power over to the nuns.  If they believe that God ordered women to be kept from power for mysterious reasons, who’s to say that that wasn’t so there would be a group of faithful, committed people, untainted by the corruption, to take over in this hour?

    Needless to say, they won’t.  But they should.

  • AnonCollie

     I never said I liked all his opinions, Neutrino. Especially since my own orientation has long been in question.

    But before the sex scandal, he did more to heal old wounds between Catholicism and other faiths. That’s what I’m referring to.

  • MikeJ

      and my Latin isn’t anywhere near good enough

    When I took Latin the first they they taught you was “the farmer’s daughter is pretty.” An entire language devoted to travelling salesman jokes!

  • Madhabmatics

    has anyone considered bringing back an Avignon papacy

  • Lee B.

    For me, the worst part of all of this is I have to listen to my (ex-Catholic) father’s  comments on the situation, which run the gamut from inane to incoherent.

  • The saddest thing about this is that the Pope didn’t resign on March 26, which would have coincided with the DVD release of season 2 of The Borgias.

  • Freak

    The Journal of Recreational Mathematics studied that 20 years ago; they didn’t find a significant correlation with the presidency, but they did find a correlation with the Senate majority.

  • LoneWolf343

     I understand that any baptized male in the Catholic Church could be Pope, not just cardinals.

    (Stephan Colbert for Pope!)

  • Monty Loftus

    To me, the most pressing issue of this event is: does he get to keep his papal gear? Like the red slippers. Those are tailor made for his feet. Does he get to keep them and wear them whenever? Does he have to leave them for the new pope with a receipt so he can trade them back to the cobbler for store credit?

  • As an atheist, I’m voting Fred for pope anyway.   My second choice is Kirby (>^_^)> <- that guy would never cover up child abuse.  In fact he'd probably eat the perpetrators.

    … what'dya mean I can't vote in a papal election?  What kinda democracy is this!?

  • SisterCoyote

    I have to admit, my first reaction to this was “–Wait. He resigned? They can do that? Did France elect their own again?” followed by a text to my sister, who took AP European History two years after I did, with the same awesome teacher, and enjoyed it as thoroughly: “Suddenly all our weird inside jokes about the Great Schism are RELEVANT! MUAHAHAHAHA”

    (She followed by demanding that I stake my claim. One of our many
    ridiculously twisty conversations on the subject had me declaring myself
    Potato Chip Pope, of the Potato Chip Vatican, and continued with things
    like a holy war on Rutabagas, a demand that all fry-grease by
    consecrated, etc. We’re terrible people.)

    Obviously, I’m not Catholic, but I liked John Paul II rather better. Maybe he did some bad things, but I don’t remember twitching with rage at every news story I read about him, or feeling so much sorrow for his congregation’s faithful LGBTQ folk on a regular basis.

  •  Philip would be a good name for a Pope, wouldn’t it?

  • Lori


    Tho,that may disqualify every single cardinal  

    This was my first thought. Even the duration and breadth of the cover-up I doubt they have anyone who is eligible to become Pope who wasn’t part of it. Not only will the next Pope virtually certainly be guilty of covering up child rape, unless they pick someone fairly young and start pushing promotions my guess would be the guy after that will be someone who was also in on it.

    I’ve seen at least a couple people who think the next Pope will be Dolan, and he’s certainly not innocent in the cover-up. His strong anti-gay cred is probably more important to the Conclave though.

  • aunursa

    Retirement and Death in Office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices
    Stolzenberg and Lindgren, 2010

    “[T]he odds that a justice will retire … in the first two years of the term of a president of the same political party as the president who first appointed him to the Court are about 2.6 times the odds of retiring under a president of the opposing party in the last two years of his presidential term… The odds of death in office odds are about three times higher when the incumbent president is not of the same party as the president who appointed the justice (compared with when the incumbent president is of the same party).”

    Alas, this study doesn’t appear to account for those justices who acted contrary to the philosophy of the president who appointed them.  E.g. Byron White, conservative, appointed by Kennedy; David Souter, liberal, appointed by Bush)

  • Lori

    What are the odds on Joan II?   

    Apparently not worth bothering to calculate.


  • Lori


    He will be missed.   

    Yes, he definitely will.

    The measure of the man is exactly who will miss him and who will not.

  • AnonaMiss

    The optimist in me wants to believe that Benedict’s reference to new technology and deep questions was an indication that he is stepping down because of a crisis of faith brought on by his engagement, in the past few months, with the Internet.

    I’m 99.5% sure it didn’t happen that way, but it’s what I’d like to believe.

  • Philip would be a good name for a Pope, wouldn’t it?

    I’m thinking they’re not ready for a Pope Martin just yet.

  • No, I tell ya, it was reading Left Behind.

  • Jared Bascomb

    He’s beautiful.
    If your definition of “beautiful” is an ex-Nazi, homophobic, child molestation covering fuck, then we’ve got a problem with the definition of “beauty”.

    Don’t RIP, Pope Rat.

  • Jared Bascomb

    Pope Rat? Not by me.

  • Launcifer

    It occurs to me that Jed Bartlett’s Catholic…. I can live in hope, right?

  • Jared Bascomb

    My ex-boss – very conservative and very Catholic (but supported same-sex marriage) – shocked me when heard that Cardinal Rat had been made pope. He preferred the Italian popes to the Polish one (and now the German one), because the Italians were . . . Italian. They were raised in culture that knows and enjoys indulgence, and indulges in enjoyment of life. They knew *people*, and how people behave. In his opinion (and mine), Pope John Paul II and Pope Rat couldn’t understand that.

  • vsm

    Calling him an ex-Nazi is unfair. He was never a member of the NSDAP and while he did belong to Hitler Jugend, so did 90% of Aryan teenage boys, on account of it being mandatory. He was also forced to become a child soldier and lost a mentally disabled cousin to the the eugenics program.

  • Funny, I always thought that he would keep going until Darth Vader threw him into a bottomless pit.  Or is that part of his retirement package?

    But in all seriousness, I wish that I could be hopeful about this, or that I would be able to overlook Benedict’s legacy on sex abuse, contraception and marriage equality and focus on his legacy on climate change and health care.

    But, as an Agnostic and lapsed Catholic, I can’t help but feel that nothing is going to change.  The cardinals will choose another old white man, probably from Europe, who will continue to rail against contraception and homosexuality while turning a blind eye to sex abuse.  And the Bishops will continue to fight to make sure that they can deny women health care.  And the local priests will continue to give sermons that make it very clear that people like me are not welcome.  And in Confirmation classes, high school kids will continue to be told that they are free to choose their own faith–but if they choose anything other than Catholocism, then they are committing the sin of heresy and will go to Hell.

    And some of those kids will go the rest of their lives losing their faith over these things and be afraid to say anything for fear of being shunned by the rest of their Catholic family.

    Not that I’m bitter or anything.

  • This amuses me greatly, largely because I used to do the same thing (I was the Marshmallow Pope myself >.>) and… well… seeing someone else with a similar joke makes me rofl

    Clearly not the only food-based pontiff around; and that’s awesome <_<