pope benedict xvi

Andreas SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

White smoke at the Vatican in 2005, signaling the election of Cardinal Ratzinger. Andreas SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Following is a brief explanation of the process used in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Q: Who governs the church until a new pope is elected?

A: Day-to-day operations are handled by the Vatican curia, the central bureaucracy. All prelates who head Vatican agencies resign after the death or resignation of a pope. Provisions are made to oversee the papal household, the spiritual needs of Romans and to grant absolutions.

Q: What does the word “conclave” mean?

A: The word comes from the Latin, “with a key,” referring to the tradition of locking the doors until cardinals elect a winner.

Q: Who is eligible to be elected pope?

A: Technically, any baptized male Catholic is eligible, provided he is not married and in good standing with the church. Since 1378, however, new popes have come from within the College of Cardinals.

Alessandro Speciale 02-11-2013
RNS photo courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. RNS photo courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a move that took the world by surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, with plans to step down on Feb. 28.

“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,” Benedict told cardinals as they gathered in Rome for the proclamation of new saints.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said preparations for the conclave that will elect Benedict’s successor are in the early stages.

A papal election could be expected “within 10 to 15 days,” he said. “We should have a new pope by Easter.”

the Web Editors 02-11-2013
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI at a January Vespers service. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI announced today he will step down on Feb. 28, citing his advanced age. The head of the Catholic Church is 85 years old. Below is the text of his announcement.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the 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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with 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 bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength 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. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

Alessandro Speciale 01-30-2013
RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Vatican’s highest appeals court to consider reviewing church rules on marriage annulments — a statement that may signal a change in tone more than a change in substance.

Speaking on Jan. 26 to the members of the tribunal of the Roman Rota, Benedict said that “lack of faith” on the part of the spouses can affect the validity of a marriage.

While the Catholic Church forbids remarried divorcees from taking Communion, church tribunals can declare a marriage void if it can be demonstrated that some key elements — such as a commitment to have children — were missing in the first place.

Alessandro Speciale 01-08-2013
RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 24. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican reaffirmed its commitment to dialogue with Jews on Monday after the head of a traditionalist breakaway group called them “enemies of the Church.”

The Vatican chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that it was “meaningless” and “unacceptable” to label Jews as “enemies” of the Catholic Church.

“Both Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II personally engaged in dialogue with Jews,” he said. As a sign of their commitment, Lombardi noted the two popes’ visits to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site, and to synagogues in Rome and elsewhere.

We The People petition

We The People petition

The White House’s novel online system for allowing citizens to petition the administration on any number of causes has led to various unintended consequences: petitions to secede from the U.S. following President Obama’s re-election; a petition for Vice President Joe Biden to star in a reality show; and a petition for the government to disclose its secret archives on extraterrestrials.

Now there is a petition to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group for its opposition to gay rights, and it may wind up generating almost as many press releases as signatures.

The “We the People” petition was filed on Christmas Day and was prompted by Pope Benedict XVI’s Dec. 21 year-end address to Vatican administrators in which he denounced gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization.

Alessandro Speciale 10-31-2012
altrendo travel / Getty Images

Painting on ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Creation of Adam, Vatican, Rome, Italy. Getty Images

VATICAN CITY — Exactly 500 years ago, on Oct. 31, 1512, Pope Julius II led an evening prayer service to inaugurate the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's newly-finished vault frescoes.

But as Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance masterpiece, the Vatican said the growing number of tourists who visit the historic site every year might eventually lead to limiting access to the chapel to help preserve the frescoes from human-born problems and pollutants.

“We could limit access, introducing a maximum number of entries,” wrote Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper. “We will do this, if the pressure from tourism were to increase beyond a reasonable level and if we were to fail in resolving the problem efficiently.”

Paolucci stressed, however, that in his opinion such measures will not be necessary “in the short to medium term.”

Alessandro Speciale 09-17-2012
Poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Beruit, Lebanon.

Poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Beruit, Lebanon.

BEIRUT — As violent protests against an anti-Islam film spread to much of the Muslim world on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon to a warm welcome from Christian and Muslim leaders.

The pontiff's appeal for peace and reconciliation in the region, however, stood in jarring contrast with violent clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which left one dead and 25 injured.    

Landing at Beirut's airport in the early afternoon, Benedict praised Lebanon as an example of "coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions."    

Without referring expressly to the unrest, the pope warned that the country's "equilibrium" is "extremely delicate."  

Alessandro Speciale 09-12-2012
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

The Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon will go ahead as planned, despite growing tension in the region after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by a mob enraged by an anti-Islam film.

The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican was closely monitoring developments in the region but there were no signs of specific security concerns for Benedict's trip so far.

Benedict is scheduled to leave Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon despite rising instability spilling over from a deadly civil war in neighboring Syr

Kim Lawton 08-07-2012
A Rally in support of nuns. RNS photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

A Rally in support of nuns. RNS photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

 Fifty years after Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council to modernize the Roman Catholic Church, the legacy of that watershed summit that revolutionized Catholic life is at the core of a dispute between the Vatican and American nuns.

In April, the Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella group that represents the majority of American nuns, of “doctrinal confusion.”  As LCWR leaders meet this week (Aug. 7-11) to plot their response to the Vatican, many of the sisters say they are just following the spirit of Vatican II.

“This is not just about the Vatican versus the nuns. This really is about the future of how we interpret the message of the Second Vatican Council,” Sister Maureen Fiedler told the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

Christian Piatt 06-18-2012
Pope Benedict XVI photo, MIMMO FERRARO / Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI photo, MIMMO FERRARO / Shutterstock.com

Amy and I have been working (translated: watching lazily) our way through the first several seasons of Mad Men. The writing is remarkably subtle, and I was particularly struck by the fact that such a long-standing show could effectively have little or no plot focusing instead on rich character development.

For a writer, this is like enjoying a gourmet meal every night.

But the cherry on top for me is the sprinkling of anachronisms that apparently made plenty of sense at the time, but which are shockingly out of place now. There was a scene of the main family in the park, and when they’re done, the mother gives the blanket a good flick and leaves all of their trash wherever it falls. There’s also the constant smoking, even around kids and by pregnant wives (the perfect antidote for nausea, apparently), drinking at work and brazenly racist comments as the cultural norm.

Hard to believe sometimes that this took place so recently that my parents were teenagers when it took place.

Christian Piatt 06-05-2012
St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome, Italy. Photo by Grant Faint / Getty Images

St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome, Italy. Photo by Grant Faint / Getty Images

It seems the Sisters of North America are calling the Vatican out. When criticized by Vatican officials for taking a position too far left of center on a number of social issues, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious responded by calling the Vatican’s criticisms unsubstantiated and flawed.

But the rhetoric didn’t stay at the topical level. LCWR president Theresa Kane said (according to a Huffington Post report), "It is a matter of the men in the Vatican still thinking they can control the women. ... They don’t realize that we have moved to another whole point of tremendous equality and mutuality. And that we have much to say about our future and what’s going on.”

The Catholic Church, and the Pope in particular, embrace a number of socially redeeming virtues; equality and mutuality between the genders are not two of them.

Pope Benedict XVI photo by Natursports / Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI photo by Natursports / Shutterstock.com

Nearly lost amid ongoing reports about the Vatican leaks scandal, Rome’s battle with American nuns, the American bishops’ battle for religious freedom, and the priest on trial in Philadelphia, was the news that, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Philadelphia.

Benedict made the announcement at the end of his visit to Milan on June 3 for the church’s triennial World Meeting of Families. The next meeting would be in Philadelphia in 2015, he said, and he planned to be there, “God willing.”

True, the trip won’t happen until 2015, and it may well not happen at all — Benedict would be 88 by then. Even if there's a new pope in 2015, the City of Brotherly Love is still almost assured of getting a papal visit — new popes like to underscore continuity, and respect the plans their predecessors had in place.

In a larger sense, the visit would be about more than promoting family life, and in many ways it's related to other Catholic issues now dominating the headlines. Here’s why.

Alessandro Speciale 06-04-2012

Despite the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI's butler two weeks ago, leaks of confidential documents continue to dribble out of the Vatican as “moles” vow to continue their action until the pope's two closest aides are sacked.

The Italian daily La Repubblica on June 3 published a short handwritten note by Pope Benedict himself that was leaked from the Vatican. La Repubblica also said it had received two letters by the pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, but chose not to publish their contents.

QR Blog Editor 06-04-2012

Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit Philadelphia in 2015 for the Vatican World Meeting of Families. This event, which happens once every three years, is a time of discussion and fellowship around issues like the definition of marriage, contraception, and abortion.

Read more about the Pope's visit from USA Today's Faith and Reason page.

Alessandro Speciale 05-30-2012
Martin Ezequiel Gardeazabal / Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI last May in St. Peter's Square. Photo by Martin Ezequiel Gardeazabal / Shutterstock.com

The Vatican's No. 3 official on Tuesday (May 29) condemned the theft and publication of secret papal documents as an “immoral act of unheard-of gravity.”

In an interview published on the front page of L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See's semiofficial newspaper, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, who is the deputy to Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, also described the publication of an unprecedented number of leaked Vatican documents in recent months as a “brutal” attack against Pope Benedict XVI.

Alessandro Speciale 05-23-2012
Photo by Martin Ezequiel Gardeazabal / Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI last May in St. Peter's Square. Photo by Martin Ezequiel Gardeazabal / Shutterstock.com

Over the course of the last six months, Pope Benedict XVI delivered five major speeches to small groups of American bishops who were in Rome for their "ad limina" visits, which are required once every five years.

The ad limina visits are the way the pope and and Vatican departments keep tabs on bishops from around the world. They are also an occasion for the pope to address the major issues faced by a local church.

In his speeches, Benedict often echoed bishops' concern about religious freedom and the challenges confronting the American church. In his last address, on May 22, he warned bishops of the “threat of a season in which our fidelity to the Gospel may cost us dearly.”

Alessandro Speciale 05-15-2012

The Vatican announced on Tuesday (May 15) it had settled a lawsuit against Italian clothing group Benetton for using an image of Pope Benedict XVI in one of its advertisement campaigns.

The image had been modified to show Benedict kissing Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, imam of Cairo's renowned al-Azhar Mosque.

The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the image was "offensive" and stressed that the Benetton group had agreed to remove the pope's images from its campaign, and to ask third parties to do the same.

Alessandro Speciale 05-11-2012
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

German composer and abbess of St Rupert's Mount, Hildegard von Bingen. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Here are two things that don't typically go together: Pope Benedict XVI and feminist culture.

Yet they both share a veneration for Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century German nun who was the first woman to be officially recognized as a “prophetess” by the Roman Catholic Church.

On Thursday (May 10), Benedict ordered Hildegard, who died in 1179, to be inscribed “in the catalogue of saints,” thus extending her cult “to the universal church.”

Alessandro Speciale 05-08-2012
Fordham University. Image via Wiki Commons/ http://bit.ly/JlQ9Nt

Fordham University. Image via Wiki Commons/ http://bit.ly/JlQ9Nt

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday (May 5) called on Catholic colleges and universities in the United States to do more to affirm their "Catholic identity," particularly by ensuring the doctrinal orthodoxy of their faculty and staff.

Speaking to a group of bishops from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming, who are in Rome on a regularly scheduled visit, Benedict said there has been a "growing recognition" on the part of Catholic colleges of the need to "reaffirm their distinctive identity."

But "much remains to be done," the pope said, singling out the church law requirement that Catholic theology teachers "have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority," usually the local bishop.

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