The news that Pope Benedict is to resign has taken many by surprise, being the first resignation from the position since a decision by Pope Gregory XII to step down in 1415.
Citing health problems, Pope Benedict explained:
“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 Saint 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
As befits such a high profile figure, his standing down has been met with mixed reactions.
The Telegraph blogs editor, Damian Thompson, has declared the decision to be ‘an act of self-sacrifice by a man not prepared to see the Church suffer as a result of his increasing frailty’.
Concluding that his achievements as Pope have been ‘remarkable’, Thompson continues:
“He has renewed the worship of the church, reconnecting it to the majesty and deep piety of the past. He has forged new links with non-Catholics, for example by bringing ex-Anglicans into the fold through the Ordinariate.
“There have been public relations disasters, notably over the readmission of ultra-traditionalist bishops to the church, one of whom had Nazi sympathies. But there have been unexpected successes too: not least his remarkable visit to Britain, when his gentle wisdom profoundly touched even sceptics.”
“The achievements of Benedict XVI have been subtle, above all in renewing and purifying the way the Catholic Church worships its Creator. He will be intensely missed by those of us for whom he was, in his quiet way, the most inspiring Pope of our lifetimes.”
However, for the editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free ‘belief’ section, Andrew Brown, Pope Benedict leaves a church ‘battered’.
Picking up on child abuse scandals in particular, Brown writes:
“Benedict leaves a church battered in the west by child abuse scandals and a shortage of priests but still growing fast in the south. In the Middle East, its historic homeland, Christianity is now persecuted with almost unprecedented savagery.
“For Benedict, western Europe had been largely lost to Christianity, and was once more a mission field which would have to be reconverted. He stood on the side of reaction, and for many of his opponents epitomised it.
“He maintained his predecessor’s hostility to capitalism, and to the sexual revolution. Neither of these things are likely to change under a new pope.”
Eluding to the news that the new Pope will be installed by Easter, Brown continues:
“The long planning means that the succession will go as smoothly as possible but it is always difficult to predict the outcome of the conclave in which cardinals elect a pope. As the last two have not been Italian, it may be that the succession will move towards Africa and away from Europe altogether.
“An African would mean a greater focus on the relationships with Islam, perhaps at the expense of the relations with the rest of Christianity.”
In praising meanwhile the ‘great dignity’ with which Benedict held office, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, himself preparing to take office formally, said:
“As I prepare to take up office I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ. He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity.”
In a less spiritual analysis, Martha Gill uses the New Statesman to praise the outgoing Pope’s choice of headwear.
The bookmakers Paddy Power have already published odds on where the next Pope will come from, with Italy the favourite at 5/4 and both Africa and Canada at 2/1 and 5/2 respectively.
The New Statesman, meanwhile, is reporting that Ladbrokes is offering odds on named successors: 5/2 for Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 3/1 for Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 4/1 for Cardinal Francis Arinze, and 6/1 for Cardinal Angelo Scola.