For the first time since Pope Gregory XII resigned in order to help bring an end to the great 15th Century Christian schism a pontiff has resigned his office. Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure has been rife with controversy, scandal and media scrutiny. From the Vatican-gate document leaking scandal to the new explosion of sexual abuse cover-up charges in Germany, Ireland, Los Angeles and Italy Benedict’s pontificate has been one of the most contentious and controversial in living memory.
In front of an assembly of the College of Cardinals Pope Benedict gave as his reason health concerns and his advancing age. What is strange about this is that these concerns have not kept all but a handful of other pontiffs from dying in office. With a new Oscar nominated documentary (Mea Maxima Culpa) out about Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict’s role in the cover-up of the abuse of hundreds of children throughout the world, it is hard to believe that internal pressure did not have anything to do with this decision.
Either way, this sets up a new papal election, the Conclave, wherein the College of Cardinals, all Cardinals under retirement age, will choose a new pontiff from their number. The next pope will be the 266th official Pope according to the list kept by the Vatican that starts, oddly enough, with St. Peter.
As a Pope watcher and Vatican nerd I will be ALL OVER THIS for the next few weeks and as I am currently writing a book about the papacy this is of special interest to me. This is all very sudden and very exciting…next up I will probably looking into the papabile, or, the men who are most likely to be elected Pope.
UPDATE: A few minutes ago Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George, who will participate in the Conclave to replace Benedict XVI, has said in a press conference that he met with the Pontiff last week and noticed that the man was “showing his age”. He would not go so far as to say that Benedict/Ratzinger looked ill or unwell but it did seem interesting that he chose to note this meeting.
Also, speculation has begun over who will take the place of Benedict on the Throne of Saint Peter. Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Ouellet of Canda and Cardinal Bagnasco of Milan in Italy seem to be getting the most buzz at the moment. But there is also talk that it is time to give the papacy over to a candidate that better represents the expansion of the Church into Africa, Asia and Central America. Stay tuned.