Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world Monday morning by announcing that he will step down on Feb. 28, saying he could no longer serve "due to an advanced age." He is the first pontiff to resign since 1415.
For centuries, the pope was one of most powerful people in the world. He jockeyed with the kings and monarchs of Europe, who needed his approval – and his church – to rule their own countries.
Pope Benedict XVI lives in a very different time, one in which his office has purview over internal Catholic theology and not much else. But how did the pontiff's power subside over the centuries? And could the modern pope carve out a role that encompasses more than the guiding of the Catholic faithful?
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl is one of 10 American cardinals who will head to Rome in a few weeks to choose Pope Benedict XVI's successor. Wuerl, like his colleagues, has refused to publicly speculate on who might rise to the papal seat.
The archbishop released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“Pope Benedict XVI’s 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. We pray for him, we pray for the Church. It is a sign of the great humility of this Pope and his love of the Church that he has the courage to recognize that he doesn’t have the physical energy to discharge his duties as Pope. That recognition says to me that he is a very humble and honest person.
“Pope Benedict XVI's legacy is his engagement of faith with the modern world. He has called on all of us to focus on the spiritual mission of the Church, proclaim the Gospel and once again, bring this personal relationship all of us are capable of having with God, back to the foreground…He declared a Year of Faith to remind all of us that there is a basic doctrine that is bedrock for Catholic faith.”
Wuerl also asked the Washington Archdiocese's 60,000 members to pray for Pope Benedict going forward.
“I was the first Western journalist inside the KGB headquarters in 1990,” Eric Margolis told PBS, recounting his venture into the heart of the Soviet Union’s once-fearsome intelligence service, which had just collapsed along with the empire that it served. “The generals told me that the Vatican and the Pope, above all, was regarded as their number one, most dangerous enemy in the world,” he said. Mikhail Gorbachev, the final Soviet leader, once said of the Cold War’s peaceful end, “It would have been impossible without the pope.”
That pope was John Paul II, Benedict XVI's predecessor, whose reign from 1978 to 2005 saw him assert a remarkably prominent role in global politics. Benedict never quite met John Paul's benchmark, traveling less and playing a smaller role both within and outside of the Catholic world.
Click here for the full story on John Paul and Benedict's dual legacies, a fascinating view of the papacy's place in the modern world.
Anthony Stevens-Arroyo asked the question on The Post's OnFaith site: Will all popes after Benedict XVI abdicate?
It is a most modern idea to view the pope as CEO of a global corporation, rather than as a living saint chosen by God. This perspective defines church authority according to the modernizing influences of the II Vatican Council (1962-1964) and breaks with the feudal traditions of medieval Christendom, when popes - like emperors - ruled until they died. I predict that Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy will be remembered more as a progressive step towards modernity rather than a pontificate with very conservative pronouncements.
A scholar and promoter of change at the II Vatican Council where as a young cleric he was afforded the status of peritus or “expert,” Joseph Ratzinger was sometimes liberal and sometimes conservative but always thoughtful. Unlike a purely pragmatic administrator, his papacy demonstrated an academician’s sensitivity to human history and theological nuance. Consider how his encyclical Caritas In Veritate was chock-full of nuance for both sides of every issue. Predictably, some decided to attribute to Pope Benedict only the parts that were conservative (gold), and reject what was liberal (red), and the Web site of the Catholic League lists, much like a cafeteria menu, mostly his conservative stances omitting papal statements for redistribution of wealth and concern for the environment.
Thus, as a very complex thinker, Benedict knows that the future church requires more intellectual and physical vigor than he could have mustered. Moreover, the deterioration in the health of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, during the pedophilia crisis probably influenced his thinking about papal abdication.
Read the full post here.
The Post's Peyton Craighill and Scott Clement compiled this portrait of Catholic public opinion on Pope Benedict XVI:
American Catholics expressed wide satisfaction of Benedict's leadership before he announced Monday that he would give up his duties. Roughly three-quarters of Catholics (74 percent) said they were satisfied with “the leadership provided by the Pope” according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, with 34 percent “very satisfied.”
Overall, about one in five were dissatisfied (21 percent). High-level satisfaction with the Pope (34 percent) was a bit lower than for local parish priests (49 percent) and Catholic nuns in the United States (50 percent). Still, the Pope was more popular than American bishops generally (24 percent very satisfied).
Catholics offered a more muted personal reaction to Pope Benedict in a May 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll, a survey that detected dissatisfaction with the church’s handling of child sexual abuse scandals. Some 58 percent of Catholics said the Vatican has done a poor job handling reports of past sexual abuse of children by priests, while 31 percent thought they did a good job.
In that poll, 43 percent of Catholics had a favorable view of Pope Benedict, 17 percent unfavorable and 38 percent unsure/not heard of him. That was up from a 27 percent favorable rating in March 2010.
Only 25 percent of Catholics said Benedict's leadership has helped the Church, while 15 percent said he hurt it, and 48 percent saw mixed results. In 2002, almost twice as many Catholics said Pope John Paul II had helped the church.
Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to abdicate in living memory -- a fact that has led many to question whether popes can step down at all.
An analysis in the National Catholic Reporter on Monday ruled that abdication is allowed, though there's little historical precedent. The Reporter also found that Benedict has defended the practice himself.
In "Light of the World," his 2010 book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald, the pope said:
"If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign ...
"When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say someone else should do it."
Benedict's resignation letter, which discussed his failing health, echoed the 2010 statement.
When Pope Benedict XVI joined Twitter last year, he generated a huge amount of online buzz for an institution that's often criticized for its approach to the Internet. Benedict's @Pontifex account has attracted more than 1.5 million followers with just 34 tweets. And while that figure is an improvement over no Twitter presence, the pope's account is only the 763rd most popular account on Twitter.
So, how might his successors fair? Just a handful of the papal frontrunners (four out of 12), appear to have Twitter accounts. You can follow them by clicking the buttons below.
This afternoon, Edward Cardinal Egan also released a statement to the press. Click here to read it. blog.archny.org/index.php/card…
— Cardinal Dolan (@CardinalDolan) February 11, 2013
— Card. Angelo Scola (@angeloscola) February 11, 2013
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genetrix
— Gianfranco Ravasi (@CardRavasi) February 11, 2013
Odilo Pedro Scherer
Pode-se fazer festa e participar do carnaval, sem perder a própria dignidade nem ferir a do próximo? Acho que sim, mas... Vamos interagir?
— Dom Odilo Scherer(@DomOdiloScherer) February 9, 2013
We know that Pope Benedict will be stepping down at the end of the month, becoming the first pontiff to abdicate in nearly a millennium. But we don't know what life after the papacy will be like for the former Joseph Ratzinger. The Christian Science Monitor took a look at what the immediate future could hold:
When Benedict formally resigns on the evening of Feb. 28, he will be taken probably by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer retreat of popes, in the hills outside Rome. The 85-year-old is expected to remain there for 15 to 20 days, until the conclave of around 120 cardinals drawn from around the world gathers at the Vatican and elects a new pontiff. Benedict will then take up residence in a cloistered monastery within the Vatican City State. His title at that point? Unclear.
Inevitably he will run into his successor and will still be in daily touch with cardinals and other influential figures within the Holy See. Not only that but, according to the Vatican spokesman, Benedict will continue to write and publish treatises and essays – he is a noted theologian who recently completed a trilogy on the life of Christ.
That could produce a situation where the former pope says one thing on an important matter, while his successor says something different.
“Traditionally popes have not resigned because there is this question of what do you do with two popes,” says John Thavis, an American who has covered the Vatican for 30 years and recently wrote an insider’s account of the Holy See – “The Vatican Diaries.”
“What should be the role of a former pope – does he have to stay quiet for the rest of his life? What if he speaks up and disagrees with his successor? You then have the prospect of the Church effectively having two popes.”
The conclave that will choose a new pope is still several weeks away, and we're entering the fever pitch of speculation around Benedict's successor.
One early question already looms large in headlines and on social media alike: Could the Catholic church elect its first black pope?
Short answer: Maybe. Peter Turkson, a 64-year-old cardinal from Ghana, is one of 12 lead contenders for the church's top job. Bookmakers seem to think he stands a good chance -- according to the Web site Oddschecker, which aggregates odds, he's been given the best ones so far.
Turkson leads the pope's council for justice and peace, CNN reports, and has worked with people from a variety of faiths. Demographically, Africa also represents a growing slice of the world's Catholic population.
But that trend didn't propel a non-European to the papal seat in 2005. And as Daily Intelligencer points out, bookmakers didn't correctly predict who became pope that year, either.
That won't stop some Catholics from celebrating the prospect of their first black pope now. Even rapper Common, an unlikely papal commentator, is apparently weighing in. He told TMZ that Turkson's election would be "a beautiful thing."
Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI only eight years ago, but the man whom nuns cheered from St. Peter's Square in 2005 bears little resemblance to the one who announced his decision to leave the papal seat on Monday to look after his failing health.
In this video, taken shortly after the conclave that elected him, Ratzinger smiles and waves as followers cry, pray and sing in the plaza below.
"Viva il papa," they begin chanting at one point -- long live the pope.