Photo: Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24 (RNS photo courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service)
Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation sent shock waves throughout the Catholic Church Monday. The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals. He steps down on Feb. 28.
The German-born pontiff cited declining health and age as reasons for his resignation. Benedict, whose announcement comes just as the Lenten season begins, stressed that fulfilling his duties requires "both strength of mind and body."
"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 serve as pope, he told the cardinals.
"In order to govern the bark (ship) of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary -- strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me," he said.
Pope Benedict, the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, is receiving mostly praise for his unexpected move. Not since Pope Gregory XII, who resigned the papacy in 1415 in a controversial arrangement to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants, has a Pope resigned.
“Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down out of love for the Church and her needs, much as he began his papacy with a focus on love, entitling his first encyclical ‘God is Love,’” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association. “Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered as a profound theologian who encouraged a love for the person of Jesus Christ, and as a reformer who confronted scandal head on and has left the Church with the strongest child protection policies of any institution in the United States.”
Pope Benedict leaves a legacy as a conservative Catholic leader. During his eight-year leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, he rejected the ordination of women and marriage for priests. He also opposed euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage.
Dr. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, notes many evangelical Christians don’t agree with various tenets of the Catholic Church, many do respect this Pope’s efforts to promote orthodox biblical values.
“Even prior to the papacy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was very strong standing against liberation theology and the synthesis of Marxism with Christianity in Latin America and other parts of world,” said Moore. “Over the years he has also stood against the Catholic left that wants to de-emphasize life on abortion issues.”
Moore asserts the Roman Catholic Church is important to Protestant evangelicals as a constant reminder concerning issues that might otherwise be forgotten.
“We are related in many ways and we dissent in many ways, but we are in this together,” said Moore. “Evangelicalism is often market-driven and ahistorical. The church at Rome prevents us from simply morphing out into a kind of belief that is disconnected from issues.”
Jason Jones understands firsthand the importance of speaking out on issues like abortion.
Earlier in his life he learned his girl friends father forcibly aborted his 6-month-old daughter in the womb. Living in Hawaii, he began going door-to-door attempting to convenience people about the ills of abortion. An atheist until he was 32, Jones ultimately turned to Catholicism as an expression of his newfound faith.
“The Holy Father has resigned, but the church will go on,” said Jones. “The Holy Spirit will select a worthy successor that Catholics will love and adore just as much as Pope Benedict and John Paul II.”
Jones has further put his faith into action to protect the preborn as a Hollywood film producer. He is co-producer of the award winning short film Crescendo, a powerful pro-life short film. Jones said he had the honor of meeting Pope Benedict several years ago.
“I’m speechless about his announcement,” said Jones. “My admiration of him is boundless as he has done so much for the Church. One of the greatest privileges of my life was being in the Vatican with my wife where Pope Benedict blessed our wedding.”
The Pope’s resignation brought an onslaught of media coverage -- not all of which was flattering.
While most networks showed restraint, CNN used the announcement to condemn the Catholic Church. Both anchor Soledad O’Brien and her guest Alex Gibney, producer of "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," spent most of the interview Monday speculating if Pope Benedict resigned amid pressure from clergy sex abuse scandals that has plagued the papacy in recent years.
“No matter what Catholics do, the major media find a way to attack them,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of business & culture of the Media Research Center. “Pope Benedict XVI decides to retire because he is 85 and CNN dredges up the director of an anti-Catholic documentary to comment on the issue. Between O'Brien and Gibney, they criticized the pope over gay marriage, female priests, celibacy and the ‘erosion’ of the church.”
Gainor notes there was no attempt to point out the good works of the Pope.
“Instead, the allegedly neutral media showed its true colors by dragging the spiritual father of 1 billion Catholics through the mud to push a lefty agenda.”
With Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, there is great speculation about who will be the likely successor to the throne of Peter, thought to be the first pope of the Church. While, for some, Pope Benedict’s resignation simply means the search for a new leader of the Catholic Church, others claim it could be the sign of future calamities.
Allegedly, the Irish archbishop St. Malachy traveled from Ireland to Rome in 1139, where he received visions about the future that included the names of the next 112 popes. He wrote the names down and reportedly gave them to Pope Innocent II as a gift, but they weren’t uncovered until centuries later.
The famous “prophecy of the popes,” begins with Pope Celestine II, elected in 1143, through the successor of current Pope Benedict XVI. The reign of the final Pope, Petrus Romanus (Peter the Roman), is predicted to end in the destruction of the city of Rome.
St. Malachy writes about the 112th pope, "In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the City of Seven Hills [Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End [i].”
Prophecy expert Cris Putnam, and co-author of Petrus Romanus the Final Pope is Here, contends he initially sought to prove the prophesy wrong.
“A lot of the phrases are pretty vague. It seems like some of them could apply to just about anything, but not all of them,” said Putnam. “Some of them really match in an uncanny way. So much so I couldn’t really debunk it.”
The Church regards the prophecy as a forgery, while others simply maintain it to be nothing more than a bogus prophecy similar to the failed Mayan calendar prediction.
Putnam, who also has a master of arts in theological studies from Liberty University, said he doesn’t claim to be a prophet, but he will be watchful.
“Is it going to come to pass? I don’t know,” said Putnam. “If it were going to come to pass sometime during the reign of this next Pope we could expect the end times.
The Vatican announced it would summons a conclave of cardinals to elect a new Pope in time for Easter. There are several papal contenders, including Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana, who is a front-runner to become the first black Pope.
As many Popes select a different name, if elected, Cardinal Turkson could honor the heritage of his given name, even if it is Peter the Roman.
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, OxfordFamily.com and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, a regular contributor for ReligionToday.com, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. He has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show and Sandy Rios in the Morning. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook.com/russjones.
Publication date: February 12, 2013