Pope Benedict XVI’s shock decision to resign on February 28 sets the stage for a change in the ‘papacy for life’ system which has dominated the Catholic Church since its beginnings, and could reflect a wider change in the establishment.
Citing lack of strength to fulfil his duties, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will resign on February 28, becoming the first pontiff to give up his seat in nearly 600 years. Benedict’s unprecedented move could transform the traditional papacy, in which popes are expected to serve until their death.
While popes are allowed to resign, church law stipulates that the decision must be “freely made and properly manifested”. Benedict’s decision could change that.
“The era of the 'pope for life' is finished,” FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Leela Jacinto said on Monday. “From now on, there will be speculation over whether a pope has had it or not, if he's too ill or if he can't manage,” she said, adding that Benedict had “opened the resignation door” for his successors.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if during the election [in March], the possibility of limiting the mandate to a certain age isn’t brought up,” religious historian and magazine editor of ‘Le Monde des Religions’, Frédéric Lenoir told French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur on Monday.
Profile: Pope Benedict XVI
While Benedict XVI did not specify his reasons for resigning, he had already raised the possibility of resigning in 2010, when he said that “if a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign.”
He is said to have urged his predecessor, Jean-Paul II, with whom he worked closely for nearly a quarter of a century, to resign after the late pontiff suffered increasingly dire heath but refused to give up his papacy.
“We mustn’t forget that Joseph Ratzinger [as he was known before] was very close to Jean-Paul II and was severely affected by [his ill health at] the end of his term, Radio France International religion correspondent Geneviève Delrue said on Monday. “Benedict XVI felt that his own health was declining and did not want to find himself in the same position,” she said.
“We are really entering a new era,” advisor to the archbishop of Paris, Jean Duchesne, told FRANCE 24’s Debate programme on Monday. “In many ways Benedict XVI was a successor of […] the last millennium. Now we have turned a page entering the third millennium and we need somebody who represents this era to lead us.”
The Pope’s decision led to immediate calls for a successor from a developing country rather than a traditional European background, where Catholicism continues to decrease in popularity. Today, more than half of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in developing countries, mainly in South America and Africa.
“Already when Benedict XVI was elected there were strong calls for an African pope in order to better represent Catholic followers,” Ulrike Koltermann, a German journalist specialised in religion, told FRANCE 24. But Koltermann also noted concerns from European followers that African Catholics tend to be “more conservative than their European counterparts”.
Advisor to archbishop of Paris, Duchesne rejected concerns that an African pope would be off-putting to Western followers of the church. “For most Catholics the words conservative and progressive don’t mean anything,” he said. “While you might describe African Catholics as more conservative, they could equally be described as more faithful,’ he said.
Date created : 2013-02-11