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The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

February 12, 2013

Almost everyone was shocked yesterday to discover that Pope Benedict XVI is going to be resigning at the end of this month. In doing so, he is the first Pope to have resigned since 1415 and that was for different reasons. Pope Benedict is 85 years old, and has health concerns, his doctor’s have told him not to make transatlantic flights and his brother has said his resignation has been thought about for a few months now. But, in 1415, the Pope at the time, Gregory XII resigned for very different reasons. He stepped down as Pope to end the Western Schism, which was rocking the church during that time. But, for the last 600 years, no Pope has resigned; they have died whilst in office.

There has been a very mixed reaction to the news of the current resignation and I am sure there will debates as to whether he was right to step down or not for months to come. On one side of the argument are those who believe this is a good thing, an acknowledgement that things can change, and that a change in Pope, rather than one who cannot fulfil his duties cannot be considered bad. At 85, Pope Benedict will surely have problems to do all that a younger Pope may be able to do (younger being a relative term of course). But, he has also given his life to God and the Catholic Church, and so another argument is that he deserves some peace, if he is old, frail and has health concerns, he can lead a quiet life until his death.

However, others believe the complete opposite, that his stepping down is selfish and he is letting the Catholic Church and its followers down. The Pope was elected to his position through his Cardinals, and they are guided by God as they make their decision, and so the Pope is essentially placed as the head of the Catholic Church due to God’s will. So, is he letting people down, or is he doing the right thing by stepping aside?

One question that can now be asked, following this resignation, is whether this will be the new trend, will future popes resign on account of old age and ill health? I’m not sure it is such a bad thing, when a Pope is elected, he is often old to begin with, but he has life experience and other experiences that he can bring to the Papacy, which are useful. However, at some stage, even Popes need a rest and some peace and quiet.

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