News: Pope Resigns, Makes History

Photo Credit: Roberto Ponti

The pope, seated at center.

Yesterday, Mon. Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in six centuries.

Delivering the announcement in Latin to a meeting of cardinals, the 85-year-old said that a lack of “strength of mind and body” crippled his ability to lead the world’s Catholics in a world “subject to so many rapid changes.”

The Church’s 265th pope, the first German to fill the position in half a millennium and the oldest to take office at age 78, had appeared frail and exhausted in the last few months, seeming to fall asleep during Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s on Christmas Eve. Despite this evident decline in health, many viewed the pope’s unusual exit as a shock coming from such an orthodox figure. After all, the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, in 1415 in the midst of the Great Schism. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Benedict “took us by surprise,” and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti called the announcement “immense and unexpected.”

Elected in April 2005, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned a reputation as an unbending traditionalist. Surpassing even the conservatism of his predecessor John Paul II, he maintained the Church’s position on matters such as divorce and contraceptives, prompting criticism from progressives. Scandal, much of it centering around the issue of clerical child abuse, also rocked his papacy.

“As long as Benedict doesn’t influence the election of his successor, this change lets us move forward and gives the Church potential for taking steps in the right direction on progressive issues like contraception and gender equality,” says M-A senior Annie Altman-Merino, a Confirmed Catholic.

Indeed, Benedict’s decision to step down may constitute his most significant reform. By setting a limit on his own pontificate, Benedict may put in place a new precedent for his successors. For this reason some are judging the resignation one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the papacy and a revolutionary step for the Catholic Church.