Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement on Monday surprised the world and many have been left wondering what comes next for the Vatican.
Becoming the first Pope to step down from the position since Gregory XII in 1415, Benedict XVI released a statement in which he cited his age as the major reason for stepping away from the position. When Gregory XII stepped down 600 years ago, the reasoning revolved around a major schism in the Church. Benedict’s resignation is of a more personal nature, in line with the resignation of Pope Celestine V in 1294. That resignation came after only five months due to Celestine’s preference of the simple monk life over the duties of leadership as Pope. Although Benedict’s resignation comes as a shock, it isn’t necessarily unprecedented in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
“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,” read Benedict’s official statement. Born Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI was 78 when he was chosen as successor to Pope John Paul II in 2005. His health, most assume, is what has lead to his decision to give up his position, though a Vatican spokesman says that no specific health issue, such as any diseases or conditions, are to blame. The Vatican does say that Benedict has a pacemaker and a history of strokes, but these conditions existed when Ratzinger was selected eight years ago.
Benedict will officially be free of his duties at 8 p.m. (Roman time) on Feb. 28. He specifically chose this time as it’s when his daily work usually ended, according to CNN. According to Catholicism’s Canon law, any Pope that is to resign must do so of clear conscience and sound mind, and cannot be forced out. Benedict made it clear in his statement that this is his decision and the Vatican seemed just as surprised as the rest of the world when the announcement of his resignation came out.
With a Pope leaving, though, that means a new one must be selected, and the hope is that this process will be complete by Easter. Cardinals from around the world will be making their way to the Vatican in early March to begin the conclave to select the new Bishop of Rome. There is no clear frontrunner for the position as of yet. Many different candidates will be looked at from a wide variety of backgrounds. In fact, one could say that the Cardinals will look at a potpourri of possible successors to Benedict XVI.