Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to step down as the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics across the globe on 10 February. Reuters reported that in an announcement read to Cardinals in Latin, the official language of the Church, the 85-year-old said that he was well aware of the seriousness of his act “as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours (1900 GMT) the See of Rome, the See of St Peter will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is”.
He is the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years. Before him, you have to go all the way back to 1415 when Gregory XII resigned as a compromise measure to resolve bitter factional wars in the Church. There were as many as three claimants to the papal chair then. As against that, the present Pope’s resignation is more personal. He says he is too old to continue and just does not have the mental or physical strength that the role demands. Even then, he did not have to resign. His predecessor, John Paul II, was, towards the end of his reign, in even worse health but that didn’t stop him from continuing till he died in office.
The resignation could result in a period of uncertainty in the 2,000-year-old institution, which has been wrought by scandals in the past couple of years. The Pope has had to deal with allegations of widespread child sex abuse in the Church. He expressed regret for it. Unlike John Paul II, he was thought to be less liberal. He is expected to go into isolation after his resignation. But he will remain a Cardinal. According to Vatican spokesperson Father Frederico Lombardi, the outgoing Pope will not influence the election of a successor. The new Pope will be elected next month and will be expected to take over by Easter.