Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II. At the time of his election, he was age 78 and was already planning to retire as the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria. He was the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years.
The now-85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning, just two days before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. He emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“After having repeatedly 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 told the cardinals. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.
“However, 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 — strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Fr. Joe Yokum, of St. Peter in Chains Catholic Church in Wheelersburg, said the news came as a big surprise to him Monday morning.
“Obviously this is something we haven’t dealt with in the church for some time, so I don’t know what happens next,” Yokum said.
Bishop Frederick Campbell of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Columbus also said the Pope’s resignation on Monday was unexpected.
“Throughout his life of service, culminating during his eight-year tenure as Holy Father, Pope Benedict has always been a strong and articulate voice of our Church and faith, warning of the dangers of relativism while reminding us of the eternal relevance of Christ’s teachings and the power of his Holy Spirit. Each day, he worked to demonstrate that God is love, and we are each called upon by our faith to demonstrate that love – to better serve God’s children and demonstrate his love for us all,” Campbell said.
Yokum called Pope Benedict one of the most prolific writers of the church and said the faith of the church is strong, but he doubted this nearly-unprecedented resignation would have any negative impact.
“The church is still continued to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so we continue to have faith in God that he will continue to lead the church. Especially in this year of faith that Pope Benedict himself has called to have strength in our faith, even through the rough times in our life and especially at this moment of surprise in the church. We will continue to be strong through our faith and through prayer and through guidance of the Holy Spirit,” Yokum said.
Before Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II was the second-longest serving Pope in history until his death in 2005 at age 84. Yokum said the church urged Pope John Paul to resign, but he refused.
“He showed us this great mercy pope in John Paul II. He really showed us what it meant to suffer and what it meant to endure. So Pope Benedict, in his life, he is trying to teach us something else. We have to be open to that,” Yokum said.
Asked if he thought the church would seek out a younger pontiff to serve a longer term, Yokum declined to comment for the Conclave, but said he felt assured God would deliver to them an answer.
“If we truly put our trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the church, He will choose who He wants for us. Which is why the Conclave goes into prayer, why it goes into seclusion. They can spend their time in prayer as they choose and they elect the new pope,” Yokum said.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants. Such a rare occurrence could be a valuable educational moment for students attending Catholic schools, but Notre Dame in Portsmouth said they weren’t certain how, or if, they would use this opportunity in their curriculum.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.