papal transition

Benedict XVI: ‘God Told Me’ to Resign

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Dec. 24. Photo via RN

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Dec. 24. Photo via RNS.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy because “God told me” to, according to a report by a Catholic news agency.

The Zenit news agency reported on Monday that Benedict decided to step back as a result of what he described as a “mystical experience” that shouldn’t be confused with a vision.

That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God, Benedict reportedly said.

Benedict and Francis: How Much Difference is There?

Photo courtesy RNS/CatholicVote.org.

A meme comparing Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. Photo courtesy RNS/CatholicVote.org.

As a millennia-old institution, the Vatican is accustomed to change at a glacial pace. But in the eyes of many outside the church — and even of some within it — the arrival of Pope Francis on the throne of St. Peter seems to have started nothing short of a revolution.

Even Francis himself, in his speech to Rome’s diocese on Monday, said that Christians not only can, but should, be “revolutionaries.”

Now, 100 days into his pontificate, a debate is brewing in Rome over whether Francis has set a distinctly different course from his predecessor, or whether the visible differences in style and personality between Francis and Benedict XVI mask a deeper theological and ideological continuity.

5 Things We've Learned From Pope Francis' First 100 Days

Photo courtesy RNS.

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square. Photo courtesy RNS.

When Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world in February in becoming the first pope to resign in 600 years, he left behind a Roman Catholic Church weakened by scandals, beset by infighting and suffering from a general sense of isolation from the modern world.

Three months after the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, much of the gloom seems to have lifted.

St. Peter’s Square is again a magnet for legions of pilgrims, and the communications problems that dogged Benedict’s papacy have receded. Francis’ simpler, direct style, together with his focus on the poor and the marginalized, has captivated the world.

When the New Pope Meets the Old Pope: Awkward?

'Pope Emeritus' Benedict XVI (left), and Pope Francis. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Now that the cardinals have elected and installed their new boss, Pope Francis can get to work being the Roman Catholic pontiff, with his next order of business doing something no other pope has done in centuries: meet the guy he replaced.

Benedict’s resignation — the first by a pope in 600 years — paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis on March 13, but it also created an almost unprecedented potential for confusion and division in a church hierarchy that has room for only one pope at a time.That will happen on Saturday, when Francis is scheduled to travel a few miles outside Rome to the hilltop town of Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence where Benedict XVI has been staying — out of sight — since he resigned and left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

“Benedict XVI could turn into a shadow pope who has stepped down but can still exert indirect influence,” said Hans Kung, the dissident Swiss theologian and friend (as well as frequent critic) of Benedict’s since he and the former Joseph Ratzinger were up-and-coming theologians.

The Story Behind Pope Francis’ Election

Cardinals attend a solemn Mass at St. Peter’s before the conclave. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Last Sunday night, the Rev. Thomas Rosica was walking through the Piazza Navona in Rome’s historic center when he bumped into Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who he has known for years. Bergoglio was walking alone, wearing a simple black cassock and he stopped and grabbed Rosica’s hands.

He had reason to be worried. Two days later, on Tuesday evening, he and 114 other cardinals entered the conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI; a little more than 24 hours and five ballots after that, Bergoglio emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis. “I want you to pray for me,” the Argentine cardinal told Rosica, a Canadian priest who was assisting as a Vatican spokesman during the papal interregnum. Rosica asked him if he was nervous. “A little bit,” Bergoglio confessed.

It was a surprising outcome, and even if Bergoglio suspected something was up, few others did, including many of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel with him.

Pink Smoke Over the Vatican: Prayers to ‘Shatter the Stained-Glass Ceiling’ of Leadership

A Pink Smoke rallier holds a sign during prayers in downtown Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Ted Majdosz.

As cardinals in the Vatican wrapped up the first day of the conclave with no decision on the next pope, a small crowd assembled on the steps of the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle here in Washington, D.C., with signs, a guitar, and fervent prayers that the conclave would usher in a new openness to women in Catholic leadership.

The chilly March wind rose as volunteers passed around flickering candles. “There’s too much Holy Spirit here tonight,” one organizer joked. “We should tell her to tone it down a bit.”

Those assembled were praying for something popes have long opposed: an active recognition of women as decision-makers in the church.

Vatican Makes Final Preparations for Papal Conclave

The American cardinals aboard the bus to Monday’s General Congregation. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

As the Vatican prepares for the opening of the conclave today to elect a new pope, officials announced that the personal secretary of former Pope Benedict XVI will return to Rome for the first time since Benedict’s resignation on Feb. 28.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Monday that Gaenswein will be one of the senior Vatican officials to take part in the solemn procession of cardinals into the Sistine Chapel that will open the conclave on Tuesday afternoon.Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was Benedict’s closest aide when he was pope, moved with Benedict to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo when the retired pope left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

His presence will once again highlight the unprecedented situation — and potential complications — of having a retired pope still living just as cardinals gather to elect his successor.

Sistine Chapel Plays a Key Role in Electing a New Pope

The Sistine Chapel, where the conclave is taking place. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

As if the task of choosing the Vicar of Christ and the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics wasn’t daunting enough, the voting must also take place under the gaze of Michelangelo’s brilliant but imposing frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

That’s what the late Pope John Paul II decreed when he rewrote the conclave rules in 1996, and so it shall be starting today — and for however many days it takes the 115 cardinal-electors to choose a successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who retired last month.

In the Sistine Chapel, “everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged,” John Paul II wrote in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” which regulates papal elections.

Picking the Pope: Holy Spirit or ‘Groupthink’?

Interior of the Sistine Chapel. Photo courtesy RNS / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In Catholic theology, as in the popular imagination, the closed-door conclave to elect a new pope is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

There’s no horse-trading or lobbying, no insider deal-making or outside influences allowed. Just red-robed cardinals solemnly entering the Sistine Chapel, accompanied only by prayers and their consciences, sitting beneath Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment and discerning God’s will on who should be the next successor to St. Peter.

At least that’s the theory. The last millennium has shown that papal elections can be fraught with politics or worse, and can take months or even years of wrangling to reach a resolution.

Cardinals Move to Plug Leaks Ahead of Papal Conclave

Reporters listen as cardinals speak to the press in the Vatican Tuesday. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Tensions among the Roman Catholic cardinals meeting here to choose a new pope appeared to escalate on Wednesday as the American prelates in Rome canceled their daily press briefing under pressure from colleagues who are frustrated over news coverage of their secret talks.

The cardinals also announced that they still had not been able to agree on a start date for the conclave, in which 115 electors will cast their ballots for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The effort to control the flow of information from the daily pre-conclave “General Congregation” meetings marked a sharp reversal from the unprecedented openness that had characterized this first papal conclave of the digital age.

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