The shock announcement was made during today’s consistory: “My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”
andrea tornielli

Benedict XVI has decided to step down from the papacy this coming 28 February. The Pope communicated his decision in a surprise announcement during the consistory for the new canonizations. This is the first time a move of its kind has been seen in the modern era. Benedict XVI explained the weight of his role was too much for him, that he had meditated on the decision for a long time and that he took this decision for the good of the Catholic Church.

“”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 bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary,” the Pope said. The decision which the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, defined as “a lighting bolt from the clear blue sky.” The Pope had alluded to the possibility of resignation – mentioned in the Code of Canon Law – in his interview with Peter Seewald published in a book entitled “Light of the World”, in November 2010: “When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness that he no longer has the physical, mental, or psychological capacity to carry out the task that has been entrusted to him, then he has the right, and in some cases, even the duty to resign”.

The Pope, who was well acquainted with his predecessor and followed John Paul II’s long illness from the the Roman Curia, meant he believed resignation was the correct action to take in certain cases. In summer 2011 a rumour started circulating both inside and outside the Vatican about a “planned” resignation that had nothing to do with any disabling illness. Italian journalist, Antonio Socci as the first to express this theory in national newspaper Libero: “The Pope does is not discarding the possibility of resigning once he reaches the age of 85, i.e. in April next year,” that is April 2012. Vatican sources and the Pope’s closest collaborators flatly denied the content of the article. But the Pope clearly had been thinking about the possibility of resignation.

Since the Pope has no obvious or known physical impediments, he is leaving the papacy because he no longer feel able to carry out his role. We must not forget that the decision has been announced after what was a particularly tough year for the papacy as a result of the Vatileaks scandal. This shocking decision – the Pope has the power to decide to resign without obtaining anyone’s approval – partly explains his decision to “correct” the consistory for the creation of new cardinals in February 2012. This consistory was believed to have favoured clerics of Italian nationality and Curia members. The new consistory held last November, which is now Ratzinger’s last, was all international.

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