2013-02-11 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) Shortly before midday on Monday Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation which will officially take effect at the end of the month, at 8pm on February 28th.
As people around the world struggle to come to terms with the surprise announcement, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘why did the Pope take this extremely unusual step of standing down as head of the Catholic Church?’
Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:
The statement of his resignation, read by the Pope in Latin, states clearly that his “advanced age” and his declining physical strength “are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”
Pope Benedict also alluded to the possibility of his resignation in the book ‘Light of the World’, a series of answers to questions posed to him by German journalist Peter Seewald in 2010.
But further clues to the reasons behind the Pope’s action can also be gleaned by looking back to the early speeches and homilies he gave at the start of his pontificate in April 2005.
In his address to the college of cardinals on April 22nd just three days after his election, the Pope spoke clearly about being “aware of my personal limitations and limited abilities”. Nevertheless he described his attitude as one of inner dedication, describing the task ahead as “a service to be rendered with simplicity and willingness, imitating our Teacher and Lord who did not come to be served but to serve.”
The following day, after celebrating Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope spoke of the enormous “weight of responsibility laid on my poor shoulders”, asking the Lord to “compensate for my limitations so that I may be a courageous and faithful Pastor of his flock..”
In his homily at Mass marking the beginning of his ministry on April 24th 2005, the Pope spoke again of himself as a “weak servant of God” assuming “this enormous task which truly exceeds all human capacity.”
And on May 7th, as he took possession as Bishop of Rome of the Basilica of St John Lateran, Pope Benedict stressed that “The one who holds the office of the Petrine ministry must be aware that he is a frail and weak human being – just as his own powers are frail and weak – constantly in need of purification and conversion. “The Pope,” he continued, “is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary, the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to the obedience of God’s word…”
As the head of the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, stressed to journalists on Monday, Joseph Ratzinger’s decision is the fruit, not of any external pressures but simply the desire to remain obedient to the word of God, whom he intends to continue serving “through a life dedicated to prayer” and reflection.