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Roman Catholicism

Part 1: 2013-FEB/MAR: The resignation of Pope
Benedict XVI. Conclave to select his successor.

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Pope Benedict XVI's resignation:

Benedict XVI resigned on Monday, 2013-FEB-11 at the Vatican, during a consistory -- an assembly of cardinals. He gave as his reason for resigning a "... decline in vigor, both in body and spirit" that made him "no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." He announced his resignation to the cardinals in Latin. Some of the cardinals were not aware at first that he had announced his resignation, presumably because of a lack of fluency with the language.

His resignation was effective 2013-FEB-28 at 8 PM local time. His final official duty was his general audience in St. Peter's Square on FEB-27.

Within hours of his announcement, an unusual but natural event occurred: a bolt of lightning struck the dome of St. Peter's. Later, on MAR-03, a mild earthquake was felt at Castel Gandolfo, where the pope was staying. Some interpreted these events as a message from God. The Italia Domani newspaper asked whether the earthquake wasn't a sign for the cardinals who will soon be choosing a new pope.

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Reactions to the resignation:

On FEB-11, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada today commented on the pope's resignation. In a statement he wrote:

"I admire Pope Benedict’s courage and grace in stepping down, recognizing his increasingly diminished stamina to carry out his ministry as bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Communion throughout the world. ... I believe his decision is the mark of a true pastor, of one who so loves the church that when he recognizes his incapacity to lead with the strength he once had, is prepared to step aside and make way for new leadership." 1

In an interview, Hiltz referred to the Pope’s:

"hospitality ... his willingness to engage in dialogue and his messages about reconciliation, non-violent ways of resolving issues and caring for the earth as some of his lasting contributions."

Archdeacon Bruce Myers, who co-ordinates ecumenical relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, said:

"Pope Benedict’s public support of ongoing dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics has never wavered. Even when the Anglican Communion’s recent struggles around human sexuality threatened to drive our two churches further apart, his response wasn’t to break off relations, but rather to insist on the continuation of formal dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics. He called it 'a matter of urgency'." 1

The Italian daily newspaper, La Republica, made the startling assertion that Pope Benedict had made the decision to resign about three weeks earlier, on 2012-DEC-17. On that day, he had received a report prepared by three cardinals who had been asked to investigate the "Vatileaks" affair.

The Guardian reported:

"Last May Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with stealing leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were 'united by sexual orientation'. It added that some Vatican officials had been subjected to 'external influence' from laymen with whom they had links of a 'worldly nature'. La Republica said this was a clear reference to blackmail." 2

The Vatican has dismissed these reports. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush of the Huffington Post reports:

"Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi hit back on Vatican Radio ... by questioning the motives and method of the newspapers that reported the story and implying that the media is seeking to influence the election process of the next pope.

'There is no lack, in fact, of those who seek to profit from the moment of surprise and disorientation of the spiritually naive to sow confusion and to discredit the Church and its governance, making recourse to old tools, such as gossip, misinformation and sometimes slander, or exercising unacceptable pressures to condition the exercise of the voting duty on the part of one or another member of the College of Cardinals, who they consider to be objectionable for one reason or another,' he said.

Lombardi also questioned the moral authority of the media. 'Those who present themselves as judges, making heavy moral judgments, do not, in truth, have any authority to do so,' he said. 'Those who consider money, sex and power before all else and are used to reading diverse realities from these perspectives, are unable to see anything else'." 3

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About Pope Benedict's retirement:

There has been considerable speculation about what Benedict XVI will be called during his retirement. The Vatican announced that he will be referred to as "emeritus pope." His full title will likely be "Bishop of Rome, emeritus."

His papal ring, referred to as the Ring of the Fisherman, his personal seal, and other symbols of his papal authority will be destroyed after he retires as they have been at the death of recent popes.

After his resignation, he will spend a few months at his summer residence, at Castel Gandolfo about 25 miles (40 km) from Rome. Building alterations are underway to prepare his new residence within the Mater Ecclesiae monastery on the Vatican grounds. 4,5,6

Just before he left the Vatican, he addressed the College of Cardinals, saying:

"May the College of Cardinals work like an orchestra, where diversity " an expression of the universal church " always works towards a higher and harmonious agreement. Among you is the future pope, whom I today promise my unconditional reverence and obedience." 7

A few hours into his retirement, he was met by thousands of people in the square of Castel Gandolfo. He said:

"Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones. ...I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this Earth." 7

Pope Benedict's last tweet was:

"Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."

The Vatican web site has been changed. In place of Pope Benedict's image are the words "apostolica sedes vacans" a reference to the temporary absence of a pope.

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About the conclave to elect the new pope:

After a reigning pope dies -- or in very rare instances resigns -- the cardinals gather in a conclave at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. Benedict's resignation will trigger a conclave In early 2013-MAR.

The procedure of electing a pope will be essentially the same as was used in 2005-APR after the death of Pope John Paul II. There is one exception. On 2013-FEB-25, Pope Benedict changed the 1996 Vatican law governing the timing for the start of conclaves. The Cardinals can now decide to start a conclave without waiting the traditional 15 days after the death or resignation of the previous pope. This change will make it possible to elect and install a new pope before Holy Week in 2013, which starts on MAR-24 and concludes on Easter Sunday on MAR-31. However, the timing may be tight.

In late February, bookmakers in the UK have selected Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana as the favorite among the bet makers.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Marites N. Sison, "Pope Benedict: 'A True pastor," Anglican Church of Canada, 2013-FEB-11, at:
  2. Conal Urquhart & John Hooper, "Vatican dismisses reports linking pope's resignation to gay conclave discovery," The Guardian, 2013-FEB-24, at:
  3. Paul Raushenbush, "Vatican Slams Media Reports Of Gay Scandal," Huffington Post, 2013-FEB-23, at:
  4. Jason Horowitz, "Pope Benedict XVI resigns Thursday and will be called ‘emeritus Pope’, Washington Post, " 2013-FEB-26, at:
  5. Steve Doughty & Hannay Roberts, "Now there will be TWO popes?..." Daily Mail (UK), 2013-FEB-13, at:
  6. Geoffrey Levy, "Bolt from the blue ...," Mail Online, 2013-FEB-27, at:
  7. Jennifer Quinn, "Pope Benedict XVI final day as Catholic leader," The Toronto Star, 2013-FEB-28, at:
  8. "Terremoto a Castelgandolfo… ed il Papa Emerito?," Italia Domani, 2013-MAR-03, at:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2013-FEB-27
Latest update: 2013-MAR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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