In a statement released Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign the papal office roughly a month before Easter. The pope cited the speed of change in the world, his advanced age and related health issues as reasons for his resignation --the first for a pope in roughly 600 years. The statement, originally delivered in Latin, read in part:
“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 news — while delivered early, around 6 a.m. Eastern time — immediately spread on social media, a sign of exactly what the pope was referring to. The pace of the world and, as a result, the papacy has, indeed, changed.
Benedict will go down in history for at least one thing aside from his decision to resign: he was the first pope to join Twitter. But, as of the writing of this post, there was still no announcement of the resignation on the Pope’s Twitter account. Instead, there was speculation as to what would happen to the pope’s account:
There were also, of course, the jokes:
BREAKING: I will be the next Pope.— drew olanoff (@drew) February 11, 2013
Apparently, God only requires 3 weeks notice— Mike Nizza (@mikenizza) February 11, 2013
Then, of course, there were questions and concerns as to the pontiff’s health:
Sounds like the Pope is sick. Maybe less mocking and more well-wishing is the order of the day? news.yahoo.com/pope-says-no-l…— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) February 11, 2013
Talk of Benedict’s resignation will undoubtedly include discussion of the church’s roiling internal politics, the child sexual abuse scandal that was unearthed shortly before Benedict ascended to the papacy and his previously stated desire not to suffer as his predecessor did while in office. But there is also the question of the role technological innovation, particularly the Web, has played in increasing the speed of governing the Holy See.
The power of the Church comes, in large part, from its ability to communicate with the faithful. Many of them, far more than when Benedict became pope, are making their voices heard online. Perhaps the pope’s resignation is a sign that the innovation the Church needs a move away from electing older leaders (Benedict became pope at age 78, the oldest person chosen since the 18th century). A younger pope would instinctively bring his messages to the flock — whether in Latin, English, French, Spanish or German — via social media first.
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