Around noon in Rome on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign the papacy effective February 28, surprising even his closest advisors in the Vatican. The conclave to elect his successor has been slated for March. The 85-year-old pontiff is the first to resign in about 600 to 720 years, depending on how you count.1 In case you are coming to the story late, or want to catch up on some commentary that’s swirled around the news, we here at TJP have been watching the web for you.
The Holy Father made the announcement at a meeting of Cardinals in Rome (a “Consistory”), though most of the cardinals who will elect Benedict’s successor were at home in their own dioceses throughout the world. He read the announcement in Latin (#ftw), though the full text of Benedict’s speech is now available in English at the Vatican’s website.
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 barque 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 announcement sent ripples around the world, beginning right here at TJP. Our editor-in-chief, Paddy Gilger, posted early links and information as the news broke. And late last night, TJP contributor Father James Martin – Chaplain to The Colbert Report – talked papal shop with Stephen, getting to use fancy words like sede vacante and camerlengo:
Martin also has a (less hilarious, but no less thoughtful) piece comparing Benedict’s decision to John Paul II’s at the New York Times. Father Tom Reese, SJ, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and veteran Vatican Watcher, tackled some of the main questions flying around in the wake of the announcement and in view of the upcoming gathering that will elect the new pope.
Of course, the announcement also brought out a little bit of humor from around the Internets. In view of Ash Wednesday, coming up this week, we thought this tweet particularly appropriate:
The Pope is really setting a high bar for giving something up for Lent.
— Kieran Healy (@kjhealy) February 11, 2013
Along similar Lenten lines, though on a decidedly more serious note, Thomas P. O’Malley from the University of Notre Dame offered a reflection on how the Holy Father’s resignation ties in with the upcoming season of Lent:
Benedict XVI’s resignation is a radical witness to what authentic discipleship involves, especially when one is the Pope, when it is entirely possible to choose not discipleship but a cultivation of one’s own ego.
Inevitably, not all of the assessments of Benedict’s papacy have been quite as balanced and laudatory as O’Malley’s. Slate.com led the morning on social media (somewhat bafflingly) republishing a 2010 piece by the late Christopher Hitchens, one not known for balance or nuance when it comes to matters religious. Andrew Sullivan offered a considerably more thoughtful, if still stinging, assessment of Benedict’s pontificate. Ross Douthat points out that Benedict, usually known as a traditionalist, is ending his papacy in the most modern way imaginable, and hopes it will be 500 years before we see it again.
And, last but not least, the announcement of an impending vacancy on the papal throne has already ignited a firestorm of speculation about who will next occupy the Chair of Peter. Some of the more notable prognostications can be found at The Tablet and Business Insider. Keep in mind, however, the well-known saying:
He who enters the conclave a pope usually leaves a cardinal.
Stick with us at TJP for continuing coverage of the papal transition.