The Pope Resigns


First resignation in 600 years

Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world yesterday by announcing his resignation from papacy, which will be effective from Feb. 28. The reason he gave for his resignation was advanced age and poor health conditions- despite the fact that the Pope is supposed to be old and has a life-term term.

For all of you who do not know, he is the first pope to step down since Gregory XII (1415).

Even though the near-unprecedented nature of Benedict’s decision means that in several cases, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next, his resignation has raised several questions.

What does this mean for ex-Pope Benedict?

Well now that he isn’t the pope anymore; he won’t automatically revert to being Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger; he would have to be reappointed by his successor.

The reason I am saying this is because there is a precedent for this. And that is Pope Gregory XII, who was appointed cardinal upon his abdication.

Apart from that, Benedict will definitely remain a bishop until his death, since becoming a bishop is a sacrament.

As no pope has retired in the last 700 years (almost), there is no formal retirement plan for popes. However, as a Bishop (and possibly a Cardinal), Benedict will continue to have access to the Vatican’s lavish healthcare plan and also to the private doctors who currently manage his medical treatment.

Being the first Pope to have a twitter account (@pontifex), it seems unclear right now that he will have control of the account. Most of the tweets from his account have been composed by aides. Therefore, it’s likely that control of the Twitter account will remain with the Vatican rather than the Pope.


Who will be the next pope?

After Benedict’s resignation, there will be an election for the new pope, sometime in March around Easter. The cardinals being name-dropped the most, in early reports include: Marc Ouellet of Canada, Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Peter Turkson of Ghana, Christoph Schoenborn of Austria, and Angelo Scola of Italy.

The thing that strikes the most from this list is that only Scola and Schoenborn hail from Europe, suggesting that the church may soon have its first non-European Holy Father in more than a thousand years.

Pope Benedict XVI has chosen over one-half of the cardinals eligible to elect his successor. Much like himself, the Cardinals are overwhelmingly European and conservative. That doesn’t necessarily preclude cardinals from outside the continent and, in fact, there have been a few suggestions that perhaps the church is ready to look elsewhere.

And to add to the rumours, two recent remarks from senior officials at the Vatican have indicated that the next pope could be from Latin America or Africa, which would make sense given their plurality in the world Catholic population.

The New York Times notes: “Today, 42 per cent of adherents come from Latin America and about 15 per cent from Africa, versus only 25 per cent from Europe.” And those European numbers are collapsing.

“Christianity is in such free-fall in former Catholic countries, that the prognosis is not good,” historian Philip Jenkins tells the Times.

The prognoses for a different kind of pope aren’t good either. It’s not just a matter of skin colour. The idea of an American pope, for example, is no less “radical”.

The Vatican isn’t racist, just infuriatingly parochial: “But while most of the world’s Catholics live outside Europe, most of the cardinals come from Europe, pointing to a central tension: while the Vatican is a global organisation, it is often run like an Italian village.”

Could we see the first black Pope?

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria are in the frame to become the first ever black pope, in the modern era. Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for Christian unity, said that the church’s future was not in Europe.

“It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave,” he said.

Asked if he would vote for a non-European over a European candidate if they were equally qualified, he responded: “Yes.”


Cardinal Turkson (Ghana) is currently the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is regarded as a very able communicator, and given that Pope Benedict’s age was the key factor in his decision to retire, Cardinal Turkson’s relative young age of 64 could count in his favour.

Given the sudden resignation of the Pope, the 80-year-old Cardinal Arinze (Nigeria) might seem like a better option. Not because of his but for the fact that his name was also mentioned in the year 2005 when the current pope was elected.

Both Africans are sufficiently orthodox to please the conservatives, while their developing world background will please many liberals.

Despite the conservative nature of the college of the cardinals, it seems very likely that the next Pope might not be European, but rather South- American or African. And if a black Pope is elected, it will symbolically mean that the church is moving forward. Even if that does happen (I hope it does), it will take the church and the new Pope some considerable amount of time to catch up with the current world.

Akhil Thakur

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