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Why did Pope Benedict abdicate?

Jesús Colina - published on 02/11/13

Those close to him have seen his health deteriorate recently

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Anyone who has seen Pope Benedict up close within the past several months will understand the words with which he has announced his decision to abdicate his ministry as Bishop of Rome.

Though his eyes still sparkle with that same lucidity, his shoulders show the weight of his 85 years pressing down upon him. His gait has become slower and more fragile, and he requires assistance in order to cover long distances. The weight of governing the Church, over which he has reigned over the past eight years as Successor of Peter, has become heavier than ever.

The Pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger (age 89), explained the situation to the German agency DPA from Regensburg: “His age has been weighing down on him.” He added, “At his age, my brother would like more time to rest.”

During the press conference concerning the Pope’s resignation, Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, explained on Monday that “the Pope has repeatedly examined his conscience before God.”

“He has come to the conclusion that, due to his old age, his strength is no longer suited to the task of adequately exercising the Petrine ministry,” added the Jesuit priest.

While the news came as a surprise to journalists, and even many Church officials, the Pope has been considering this decision for a long time.  His brother explains that he has been thinking about this decision “for months.”

Luis Badilla, a senior journalist at Vatican Radio, offered some comments on how the news was received at the Vatican.  “After the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, we must not only become comfortable with using, for the first time in many centuries, the term “ex-Pope” (even though his formal title will be “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”) – a strange and awkward thing – but we must also become used to feeling his presence along with the whole Church, and obviously, with the new Pontiff.

“Benedict XVI departs, but he doesn’t leave us stranded,” adds Badilla, who coordinates the blog “Il Sismografo” ( “He will continue to accompany the Church in prayer and silence which, without doubt, will be of great help and support to the Catholics of the world.”

“It is surprising and sad to learn about the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, but at the same time, it is comforting and encouraging to know that he will remain near to us in a silent and discrete manner that is both humble and gentle, and near to all the local churches as well as to the See of Peter,” he adds.

“Benedict XVI leaves on his tiptoes, in the same manner with which he accepted the supreme ministry of the Church, the mission of the Successor of Peter. Much (a great deal, in fact) will remain from his nearly eight-year pontificate—not not only his splendid homilies and catechetical teaching, but also his books, his theological and ecclesial productions, his gestures, and his voyages. These are documents and actions that will help many to take a second look at rash comments laden with prejudice or superficiality. Even within the past few hours, we have already seen some changes of heart. The Church, over the next several decades, cannot afford to do less than promote all of her teachings, and it is for this reason that Benedict XVI remains with us as “Bishop Emeritus of Rome.”

“It is significant that Pope Benedict has chosen to continue his life in the sisters’ cloistered convent in the Vatican. It is a decision that says more than a thousand explanations ever could,” says Vatican spokesman, Father Lombardi. 

Pope Benedict XVI
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