The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, as the pro-life champion and leader of the Catholic Church cited health concerns as the reason for his departure.
The Associated Press indicates Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he would step down because his health makes it too difficult for him to perform the duties, making him the first Catholic Church leader in more than 600 years to say he would be unable to continue in the position.
With the decision, AP indicates a new Pope would be elected before the end of March. As the new agency reports:
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.
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.”
Benedict called his choice “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.”
The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
When Benedict was elected pope at age 78 — already the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years — he had been 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.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope’s conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn’t need a pope from a “superpower.”
All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.
President Barack Obama, who has compiled a massive pro-abortion record, responded to the news.
“On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor,” he said.
Pope Benedict has been considered a hero for pro-life advocates due to his consistent record of advancing the pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church.
Earlier this year, in his annual address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corp accredited to the Holy See, Pope Benedict expressed concern over ongoing efforts to expand legalized abortion and destroy innocent life.
Pope Benedict also criticized the recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision that struck down a Costa Rican law that prohibited in vitro fertilization by redefining when life begins and ruling the embryo does not have the legal status of “person”.
At the same time, I must note with dismay that, in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion. Direct abortion, that is to say willed as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. In affirming this, the Catholic Church is not lacking in understanding and mercy, also towards the mother involved. Rather, it is a question of being vigilant lest the law unjustly alter the balance between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child, a right belonging equally to both. In this area, the recent decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding in vitro fertilization, which arbitrarily redefines the moment of conception and weakens the defence of unborn life, is also a source of concern.
Pope Benedict also noted how “human rights” is being used to liberalize policy that is self-centered and self-seeking.
Sadly, especially in the West, one frequently encounters ambiguities about the meaning of human rights and their corresponding duties. Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defence of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.
In his annual message for the World Day of Peace Jan. 1, Pope Benedict said he is concerned about continued attacks on human dignity and human rights, including from abortion, euthanasia and attempts to restrict religious freedom on pro-life issues, like the Obama administration’s HHS mandate.
The Catholic Church leader said some are promoting a “false peace” and “false rights or freedoms,” by employing “the clever use of ambiguous expressions aimed at promoting a supposed right to abortion and euthanasia.”
“Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life,” he said.
Pope Benedict said governments recognize and uphold “the right to invoke the principle of conscientious objection in the face of laws or government measures that offend against human dignity, such as abortion and euthanasia.”
“Sadly, even in countries of long-standing Christian tradition, instances of religious intolerance are becoming more numerous, especially in relation to Christianity and those who simply wear identifying signs of their religion.
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“Those who insufficiently value human life, and in consequence, support among other things the liberalization of abortion perhaps do not realize that in this way they are proposing the pursuit of a false peace,” since peace presupposes protecting the weakest,” he wrote.
“The path to the attainment of the common good and to peace is above all that of respect for human life in all its many aspects, beginning with its conception, through its development and up to its natural end. True peacemakers, then, are those who love, defend and promote human life in all its dimensions, personal, communitarian and transcendent. Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life,” the Pope wrote.
He continued: “Those who insufficiently value human life and, in consequence, support among other things the liberalization of abortion, perhaps do not realize that in this way they are proposing the pursuit of a false peace. The flight from responsibility, which degrades human persons, and even more so the killing of a defenseless and innocent being, will never be able to produce happiness or peace. Indeed how could one claim to bring about peace, the integral development of peoples or even the protection of the environment without defending the life of those who are weakest, beginning with the unborn. Every offence against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace and the environment. Neither is it just to introduce surreptitiously into legislation false rights or freedoms which, on the basis of a reductive and relativistic view of human beings and the clever use of ambiguous expressions aimed at promoting a supposed right to abortion and euthanasia, pose a threat to the fundamental right to life.”