pope benedict xvi

Pope Benedict XVI Leaves Office, Promises ‘Obedience’ to Successor

Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he leaves St Peter's Square on Feb. 27. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY — The papacy of Benedict XVI came to a quiet end at 8 p.m. on Thursday, making him the first pope in 600 years to voluntarily leave office.

While there was no formal ceremony to mark the historic passage, the end of Benedict’s papacy and the beginning of the “sede vacante” interim period was clear when the Swiss Guards left their post at the gate of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The Swiss Guards are charged with protecting the pope. When Benedict ceased to be pope, his security was no longer in their hands. At the Vatican, officials sealed the pope’s apartment as prescribed by church law, and will destroy the pope’s ring and official seal in the coming days.

Vatican Intrigue Is Age-Old Part of Papal Politics

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

The Vatican appears rocked by scandalous rumors and resignations just as church leaders must gear up to replace frail Pope Benedict XVI with a closed-door conclave.

But Vatican experts say if you think the world’s largest nongovernmental institution is in unprecedented chaos right now, think again.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano presents the papal fisherman ring to Pope Benedict XVI at the new pope’s installation Mass. The fisherman’s ring bears an image of Peter, his boat and his net, which figure in two Gospel accounts of miraculous catches of fish. Benedict said that while fish die when removed from the sea, “in the mission of a fisher of men the reverse is true.” 

“Have you ever heard of the Borgias?” quipped professor Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department for Fordham University in New York. They were the larcenous, adulterous, murderous, election-rigging, Renaissance-era family of renaissance popes “who ran the papacy for decades like a private fief.”

For all the sex, money, and power headlines wafting out of Rome these days, at least no one has been murdered. Infighting and innuendo, though, are ancient traditions that have moved into the bright lights of the 24/7 news cycle and social media.

Pope Benedict Defends Choice to Resign in Last Public Address

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

In his final public address, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision to resign while trying to reassure Catholics still reeling from the shock of his unprecedented move.

For the first time since his stunning announcement on Feb. 11, the 85-year-old pope explained at length his decision to become the first pope in six centuries to resign. His tenure officially ends Thursday at 8 p.m. local time.

Benedict admitted that his resignation is a “grave” and “novel” act but, he added, his choice had been made “with profound serenity.”

“Loving the church means having the courage to make difficult, agonizing choices, having ever before oneself the good of the church and not one’s own,” he said.

Benedict Will Be ‘Pope Emeritus’ After Resignation

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Pope Emeritus” after his retirement on Feb. 28, and will continue to wear white vestments, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

Ever since Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, there had been wide speculation about seemingly small issues, such as what he would be called or whether he would retain the title of “pope.” Such details, however, carry great symbolical value within the tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told reporters that Benedict will continue to be called “His Holiness” and that his title will be “Pope Emeritus” or “Emeritus Roman Pontiff.”

He said Benedict had decided the issue himself, after consultations with experts.

Venting and Vetting: The Brutal Side of Papal Politics

View of St. Peter's Basilica, Iakov Kalinin/ Shutterstock.com

View of St. Peter's Basilica, Iakov Kalinin/ Shutterstock.com

If you want a crash course on how papal politics really works, look no further than the saga of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

On Friday, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric grabbed headlines by telling the BBC that priestly celibacy was “not of divine origin” and that he’d be “happy” if priests had the option to marry.

On Saturday, O’Brien was back in the news, this time after four men reportedly accused him of “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.

By Monday, O’Brien had resigned as archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would skip the conclave.

From champion of married priests to disgraced churchman within 72 hours, O’Brien’s trajectory is stunning but also emblematic of the frenetic and fever-pitched campaigning that occurs during the tiny window between a pope’s death or resignation and the election of his successor.

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien Resigns After Sex Accusations

Wikimedia photo courtesy Gavin Scott.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland. Wikimedia photo courtesy Gavin Scott.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland resigned on Monday in the wake of explosive charges that he had made “inappropriate” sexual advances to four men, three of them priests, and one now a former seminarian, starting in the 1980s.

O’Brien said he would skip next month’s conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, leaving the United Kingdom without a cardinal’s voice in the election of a new pope.

In a statement, O’Brien said Benedict had accepted his resignation effective immediately, and he appeared to allude to the events surrounding his sudden exit.

“Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended,” said the cardinal, who turns 75 next month, which is the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinals retain the right to vote in a conclave until age 80.

Vatican Mulling Changes to Election of New Pope

Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is considering changes to church law regulating the election of a new pope, but stopped short of saying whether voting could start earlier than currently planned.

Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” regulates what happens between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor.

It stipulates that the conclave of cardinals must begin 15 to 20 days after the end of the previous pontificate.

But after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28, several voices within the church have asked for an earlier start to the voting to shorten the time the Catholic Church is left without a leader.

Who Runs the Vatican After the Pope Steps Down?

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.

So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.

But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.

Conservatives Vent Disappointment Over Benedict’s Papacy

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.

“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”

Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.

Why the Next Pope Should Be a Poor Woman of Color

Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com

Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com

For the first time in six centuries, the head of the Catholic Church is stepping down. Some, like Huffington Post Religion’s Senior Editor Paul Raushenbush, have suggested this is an indication that the stodgy religious institution is creeping its way toward modernism. Could it be that the role of Pope will be considered to be that more like a CEO than a sovereign ruler? Is there room within today’s church for its leadership to step down when they feel they can no longer adequately fill the tremendous demands heaped upon them?

Can Popes retire? And if so, do they have to give up those cool red shoes?

So if, indeed, the Catholic Church is moving in a new direction, why not consider a more thorough overhaul? Some have suggested that the next Pope should come from the southern hemisphere, given that this is where the faith is growing the most (actually, it’s not really growing much at all in the northern half of the world). But as some have suggested within the church, the process of selecting a Pope is not necessarily driven by creating a representative leadership.

That said, it seems a rare opportunity to do something exciting. I, like many people, assumed that the successor to Pope Benedict would have to come from within the College of Cardinals. But though this has been tradition for most of the life of the Church, Pope Clement V is a rare exception. He was plucked from a monastery to become Pope, with the hope of overcoming much of the perceived corruption within the College.

And though the College of Cardinals is not explicitly mired in scandal at the moment, the Church itself certainly has suffered some blows in the court of public opinion, as well as in the court of law, in some cases. So given that precedent, perhaps it’s time for another radical departure from tradition, one that will signal to the world that the Church is more committed than ever before to its mandate to care for the poor, and support the marginalized.

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