BY A.J. MILLER
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign at the end of February, according to various news sources worldwide.
The aging pontiff, who suffers from arthritis, stated that he was no longer physically able to fulfill his duties as pope.
Benedict is the first Pope to voluntarily resign since Gregory XII in 1415, amidst the Great Western Schism, when there were 3 other claimants to the Holy See. The last Pope to resign prior to Gregory XII was Celestine V, who resigned after five months in office in 1294.
Benedict was elected pope almost eight years ago after the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II in April 2005.
Starting in March, the College of Cardinals will begin meetings to elect the next pope. Typically, this only happens two weeks after a pope’s death, but in the case of resignation, it is unclear at this time when the college will start their deliberations.
“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 said in his announcement to the cardinals.
“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 St. 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.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Frederico Lombardi was quoted in the UK paper The Guardian as saying that the pope was not resigning due to a specific illness, but rather due to a steady decline in health.
“In the last few months he has seen a decline in vigor, both of the body and spirit,” said Lombardi. “It was his personal decision taken with full freedom, which deserves maximum respect.”
BBC Online quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel as saying that Benedict was “one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time.”
Merkel went on to say that the Pope has her “utmost respect” for concluding that he no longer is able to perform his duties.
Israel’s chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, was quoted on Al-Jazeera’s webpage as saying: “During his (papacy), there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan stated on the “Today Show” that he was “startled” by the news, and that he found out the way the rest of the world did: on the morning news.
The reaction at Franciscan University of Steubenville has been very similar to the rest of the world: shock and disbelief.
Senior Emily Rolla posted on her facebook page: “Didn’t know a pope could resign. … Praying for Pope Benedict as he steps down, as well as the new pope who will lead us into this season of rejoicing.”
Senior Jeremiah Hahn said: “I don’t know what to say. I wish he would finish his encyclical on faith, but it would be awesome if the next pope co-authored it.”
Senior Christina Sowinski said: “He has to do his duty to the rest of the church, and if he feels that his health is bad enough that he can’t do that, then I support his resignation.”
Theology professor Stephen Hildebrand said: “It’s mixed. Bad, because we are obviously losing a wonderful pope. Good, because if his health is at a point where he can’t realistically perform his duties, then it is good for him to step down.” Hildebrand also said that he knows that Benedict had looked forward to having time to write and pray, and that he hopes that Benedict will have time for that after his resignation.
University president the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR released a statement, along with several theology professors through the school’s public relations office.
“While Pope Benedict’s resignation is certainly unexpected, it is yet one more sign of the strong leadership he has exhibited throughout his papacy,” Henry said. “It takes a particular kind of wisdom to know when to step down and a wonderful humility to do so”
Henry stated that he was extremely grateful for the pontiff’s leadership, particularly Benedict’s stance on religious liberty in this country. He also said that he has “nothing but the deepest admiration for all Pope Benedict has given to the Church and the world.”
Alan Schreck, a theology professor, talked in the press release about Benedict’s legacy of seeking the truth, as well as reconciliation. Benedict was especially known for his efforts to reconcile the Anglican community to the Roman Catholic Church.
Scott Hahn, a theology professor, spoke of Benedict laying his pallium on the tomb of St. Celestine V in early 2009, saying that looking back, we can now see it as more than a simply pious act. The pallium is a symbol of papal authority.
The Rev. Sean Sheriden, TOR, said: “As a Catholic educator myself, I have come to value greatly the many teaching moments in which Pope Benedict XVI engaged during the course of his pontificate. It is apparent that the Holy Father, himself a former university professor, remained very concerned that Catholic identity should pervade all aspects of the life of a university that promotes itself as a Catholic university.”