Pope Benedict XVI, aged 85, held his last public Mass for Ash Wednesday in St Peter’s Basilica, two days after announcing he is to resign due to fatigue, on February 28, after eight years at the head of the Vatican.
He declared: “I had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
A shocked Vatican expects a new Pope to be elected by the end of March, before Easter, one of the high times of Christendom.
Benedict XVI was already one of the oldest Popes when elected in 2005. He is the first Pope to resign for nearly 600 years.
Welsh and international reactions
The press officer of the Catholic Church in Wales and England said of the decision this week: “It’s an excellent idea. He’s really tired and courageous.”
The resignation is unlikely to change anything for Wales as the press officer stressed that “the Church is universal and for the whole world” and that “there isn’t any Welsh cardinal in the Vatican” so the new Pope won’t be Welsh.
Leaders from all over the world have already welcomed the Pope’s decision and paid tribute to his work.
Pope Benedict XVI was born and raised in Germany and his fellow countryman Helga Rother-Simmonds, Consul of Germany in Wales, praised his decision, “it is a good move,” she said. “If the Pope is unhealthy and unable to carry out his duties, there is no reason why he shouldn’t resign.”
French Consul in Wales, Claude Debureaux-Rapport, emphasized that in an ever increasing secular world that France, the 7th largest Catholic country in the world and 2nd largest in Europe, was still rocked by “the importance of this decision in a country still mainly Catholic.”
“A mixed assessment”
Rev Ainsley Griffiths, Chaplain and part-time Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Wales, said: “Benedict XVI is a brilliant theologian of international stature. He’s tried speaking up for social issues and injustice, he was known for promoting inter-faith dialogue with other religions.
“On the more negative side, I think that more people regret the more conservative direction the Church has taken, it’s a mixed assessment really.”
The Rev George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff, said: “I share the surprise of people all over the world at the news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Petrine Office. I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and humility, made with characteristic clarity of mind and action.
“It’s a lonely place to be but that’s the nature of the Catholic Church. It’s a very hieratical structure. Someone has to be there to be shot down.”
The Pope’s declaration, in Latin, is a historic statement as the last Pope to have resigned was Gregory XII, who stepped down to end the Great Western Schism to reunite the Catholic Church after it was split into Eastern and Western factions during the Middle Ages.
Before being Pope, Benedict XVI was his predecessor’s, John Paul II, right-hand man and even performed his funeral ceremony in 2005. Being there to see first-hand how John Paul II progressive ill-health and aging and the impact it took on his ability to lead the Catholic Church, is said to have played a big role in Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.
Between conservatism and modernity
When appointed, Benedict XVI embodied modernity and traditions but quickly strengthened his positions against key issues such as same sex marriage and abortion.
Although being conservative on specific issues, this resignation proves his open-mindedness and modernity.
Benedict XVI’s stay at the head of the Catholic Church was covered with sex abuse scandals, especially in Canada, Ireland, United States, UK and France among others, which led many to lose faith in the Church.
Recently, he also had to face the “Vatileaks” scandal, when highly confidential documents were stolen and given to the press which allegedly proved corruption within the Church.
A papal conclave, the meeting of 177 cardinals of the Catholic Church, will soon reunite in the Sistine Chapel and appoint the new Bishop of Rome.
Only cardinals under 80 years of age will be able to vote and a two-thirds majority is needed to elect the new pope.
Rumors concerning the possible candidates for this position have already spread. Members of the Catholic Church would like to see an African or South American Pope elected in order to develop the Third World.
The most likely successors at the moment are Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze or Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet. A young candidate, who is well aware of the international stakes, will probably be preferred. But the cardinals’ choice is likely to be surprising as it was the case for previous elections.
Whatever the outcome, the new Pope will be charged with trying to bring Christendom, one of the world’s oldest religions with more than one billion members worldwide into the modern world.
Benedict XVI’s pontificate in dates