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Tributes are paid to Pope as he prepares to stand down

15 February 2013


The Pope at his weekly audience on Wednesday

The Pope at his weekly audience on Wednesday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has paid tribute to the "inspiration and challenge" of Pope Benedict XVI's ministry. On Monday, the Pope made an unexpected announcement that he would stand down at the end of the month.

In his statement on Monday morning, the Pope cited deteriorating strength brought on by his "advanced" age as the reason for his abdication. He is 85. The Vatican confirmed on Tuesday that the Pope had a pacemaker fitted some years ago, but said that he was not resigning for any specific health reason.

The Pope was elected nearly eight years ago ( News, 22 April 2005), then aged 78. In a declaration issued by the Vatican on Monday morning, he said: "After having re-peatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

He went on: "In today's world, subject to so many rapid changes, and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity adequately to fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."

The Pope said that he would "renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St Peter . . . in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of St Peter, will be vacant, and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."

Although popes have abdicated in the distant past, it has become customary for them to continue in office until their death. The last pontiff to abdicate was Gregory XII in 1415, during a schism. Before that, Celestine V had abdicated in 1294, because of ill health.

Archbishop Welby said: "As I prepare to take up office, I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ. He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity. . .

"In his teaching and writing he has brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day.

"We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict's ministry."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that "the world will miss a great theologian with great spiritual depth."

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who chairs the Council for Christian Unity, and is a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, said that news of the Pope's resignation was "a surprise but not a shock. . .

"In spite of the 'choppy waters' at the time of the announcement of the former Anglican Ordinariate, Pope Benedict has regularly reiterated the main goal of unity between the Churches of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

"This was most visibly and audibly done on more than one occasion during his successful visit to England in 2010, as witnessed in the moving joint evening prayer in Westminster Abbey, celebrated by Pope Benedict and the then Archbishop of Canterbury" ( News, 24 September 2010).

Bishop Hill said that the Pope's "final act, reviving the possibility of resignation by reason of age and capability . . . is perhaps his most radical act; for it will arguably, subtly, change the 'feel' of the papacy of the future."

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams told Vatican Radio that the Pope's decision did not come as a total surprise to him.

"I think because, in our last conversation, I was very conscious that he was recognising his own frailty, and it did cross my mind to wonder whether this was a step he might think about. . .

"These conversations are private of course . . . but it was a sense I had that he was beginning to ask the question 'Is it possible to carry on with a good conscience?'

"I'm sure it must be in his mind that for all the previous Pope's immense courage and the example he set in soldiering on to the end, it might not be - now - for the best interests of the whole Church."

Asked if he had discussed his own future plans with Pope Benedict, Lord Williams said: "I'd spoken to him before I'd announced my resignation earlier in the year; so we shared some reflections on the pressures of office, and, yes, we spoke about the promise of being able to do a bit more thinking, and praying . . . because, by the grace of God, we've enjoyed a warm relationship. So it was possible for me to share that with him earlier in the year."

Lord Williams agreed that this was a significant development in terms of the nature of the papal office. "An act like this does something to, as you might put it, demystify the papacy. The Pope is not like a sort of God King who goes on to the very end. The ministry of service that the Bishop of Rome exercises is just that, a ministry of service, and it's therefore reasonable to ask if there is a moment when somebody else should take that baton in hand. So, yes, I'd call it demystifying, and in that sense reminding us that the position of the Bishop of Rome, the primitive position of the Bishop of Rome as the servant of the unity of the Church, of the bishop who convenes, mediates between, manages the fellowship of the bishops - that slightly more functional, slightly less theologically top heavy picture: that may be one of the things that emerges from this."

The RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, said that the Pope's resignation would be seen as "a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action".

The Prime Minister said that the Pope had "worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See. . . He will be missed as a spiritual leader of millions."

The C of I Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, said that all Christians of whatever tradition should wish Pope Benedict well.

He recalled an incident from a recent ecumenical meeting of bishops in Rome. "A couple of days ago, the bishops - gathered in Rome from all over the world by the Sant' Egidio community - watched a DVD of the Pope on a recent visit to an old people's home run by the Community in that city.

"Pope Benedict, at one point, said to the old people, quietly, and with no theatrical intent: 'I am here not only as your Bishop, but as an old man in the company of other old people.' This comment now seems somehow prophetic."

The C of I Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said that the Pope had committed himself to continuing to serve God in the Church through a life of prayer. He had also drawn attention to the combined strength of body and mind required for carrying out the office of pope, Dr Jackson said.

"Pope Benedict has greatly influenced the world in general, and the Christian world in particular, by his scholarship, generously shared in a prodigious literary output."

Abdication 'is an act of courage'
Leader comment

Paul Vallely

Question of the Week: Is Pope Benedict right to stand down?

THE successor to Pope Benedict XVI will be chosen in secret by the papal conclave, a meeting of 117 cardinals who are younger than 80 and thefore eligible to vote, writes Ed Thornton.

The cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, has said that they are likely to meet between 15 and 19 March. They will have to agree by a two-thirds-plus-one majority vote. White smoke is then sent through the chimney to inform the world that a new pope has been elected.

Technically, any baptised male in the Roman Catholic Church is eligible to be elected; since the 14th century, however, popes have been chosen exclusively from among the cardinals.

Since the Pope announced his resignation, there has been speculation that a successor might be chosen from the Global South, reflecting the growth of the RC Church there. Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was quoted this week as saying: "It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave."

Cardinal Peter Turkson, from Ghana, who was appointed a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003, has been suggested as a contender. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is 64, relatively young to be elected Pope.

Another African contender, Cardinal Francis Arinze, is aged 80, and thought to be too old. 

Cardinal Luis Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, a Filipino, is the youngest front runner. He is 55. He appears frequently on television in the Philippines, and has been known to invite people begging outside his cathedral to share a meal.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, aged 68, from Canada, is Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission of Latin America. He was RC Archbishop of Quebec from 2003 to 2010.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a 63-year-old Argentinian, born to Italian parents, was chief of staff at the Vatican from 2000 to 2007. Pope Benedict appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in 2007.

Cardinal Angelo Scola, aged 71, is "the most prominent Italian candidate", the BBC said. He has been a cardinal since 2003, and was appointed Archbishop of Milan in 2011.

An unexpected outside candidate emerged this week: bookies gave Professor Richard Dawkins odds of 666/1 to be elected the next Pope. He appears on the lists above Bono.

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