Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Catholic Church faced a
tricky transition on
Tuesday as it prepared to
elect a new pope, with
many faithful still reeling from the shock resignation
of Pope Benedict XVI. The 85-year-old Benedict
told a group of cardinals in
a speech in Latin on
Monday that he will step
down on February 28
because he could no longer fulfil his duties in a fast-
changing world — the first
pope to resign of his own
free will in more than 700
years. A report in Italian daily Il
Sole 24 Ore said that
Benedict underwent heart
surgery less than three
months ago to replace his
pacemaker — an operation that was kept out of the
public eye. While the surgery went
well, the report quoted
advisors as saying that it
made the pope reflect on
whether he could continue
to guide the Church. The Vatican has
emphasised that the
momentous decision was
not due to any specific
illness and said the pope
will retire to a monastery building inside the Vatican
— creating an
unprecedented situation in
which the new pope and
his predecessor will live in
the same place. Pope Benedict XVI Pope Benedict XVI Benedict’s next scheduled
appearance is on
Wednesday at around
0930 GMT, when he is to
hold an audience with
hundreds of faithful in the Vatican. He will later celebrate
mass in St Peter’s basilica
at 1600 GMT for Ash
Wednesday — the start of
the period of Lent before
Easter for Christians. The mass had been due to
be held in the much smaller
church of Santa Sabina in
Rome but plans have been
changed at the last
minute. Only a few advisors knew
of the pope’s plan and
many in the Vatican
hierarchy were caught off
guard, with Cardinal Angelo
Sodano saying it was “like a lightning bolt in a clear
blue sky.” Sodano embraced the
pope following the
momentous announcement,
after which the pope
returned to his rooms in
the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace and broke down in
tears, Italian daily La
Stampa reported. “He could not hold back
the emotion any more,”
the report said, adding
that the pope had taken
his decision after suffering
a fall during a trip to Mexico and Cuba last year
that was not made public. Several observers said
Benedict wanted to avoid
the fate of his
predecessor and mentor,
John Paul II, who suffered
a long and debilitating illness. Ordinary faithful among
the world’s 1.1 billion
Catholics were stunned by
the decision. “An historic, unexpected
and humble
announcement,” read a
headline in Avvenire, the
official newspaper of the
Italian bishops’ conference. Some faithful said the
move was a courageous
act that would breathe
new life into a Roman
Catholic Church struggling
with multiple crises and could possibly set a
precedent for ageing
popes. “This signals the end of
the tradition of popes for
life. It is an example and a
suggestion for future
popes,” said Marco Politi,
a biographer of Benedict and columnist for Il Fatto
Quotidiano daily. Others expressed dismay
that a leader whose
election by the Church’s
cardinals is believed to be
divinely inspired could
simply decide to quit. World leaders said they
respected the decision and
generally praised his
pontificate, particularly for
his efforts to promote
inter-religious dialogue. The pope’s eight-year
rule — one of the shortest
in the Church’s modern
history — also earned him
plenty of enemies,
however, from the gay community and AIDS
activists to the many
shocked by the abuses of
paedophile priests and
multiple cover-ups. An academic theologian
and the author of
numerous tomes, including
a trilogy on the life of
Jesus Christ, the pope was
often seen as somewhat distant from the day-to-
day running of the Church. Still he tried hard to reach
out to a younger, global
audience — including by
opening a Twitter account
just before Christmas with
the handle “Pontifex” (“Pontiff” in
Latin). The Vatican said the ex-
pope would initially stay at
the papal summer
residence of Castel
Gandolfo while his new
home is being renovated. Only one other pope has
resigned in the Church’s
2,000-year history —
Celestine V in 1294 — a
humble hermit who
stepped down after just a few months saying he
could no longer bear the
intrigue of Rome and was
not able to fulfil his duties. In 1415, Gregory XII was
forced out as part of a
deal to end the “Western
Schism”, when two rival
claimants declared
themselves pope and threatened to tear apart
Roman Catholicism. Speculation over who could
be the next pope was
already rife in Rome,
although even seasoned
observers cautioned that
predictions of future popes are notoriously
unreliable. The field appears wide
open, with some saying
the papacy could return
to an Italian for the first
time since 1978, others
saying it could go to a North American candidate
and still others saying
Africa or Asia could yield
the next pope. Several analysts said the
fact that the pope was
resigning precisely because
of his advancing age could
favour the choice of a
relatively young pope. The Vatican has said it
expects a new pope to be
in place in time for Easter,
which falls on March 31
this year, although the
decision is ultimately up to the cardinals meeting in a
secret conclave. They send a signal of black
smoke each day until a
decision is taken with a
two-thirds majority. White smoke is then put
out from the Vatican
palace when a candidate
has been approved. The new pope is then
presented to cheering
crowds in St Peter’s
Square with the famous
Latin cry: “Habemus
Papam!” (“We have a pope!).

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