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UPDATE: Vatican: Health Problems Not Why Pope is Resigning

UPDATED Monday, February 11, 2013 --- 11:47 a.m.

From the Diocese of Madison:

Bishop Morlino on Pope's Resignation

As news reports have indicated, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign at the end of February. Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison has offered the following statement in regards to this development:

With the rest of you, I woke this morning to learn of the shocking, but not altogether surprising, news that our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is resigning his service as the successor of St. Peter, Bishop of Rome. His announcement brings me sadness personally, as he is a hero to me and a great shepherd for the Church. I first met the Holy Father as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1983. But knowing his decision was made after prudent consideration of the needs of the entire Church, and reflecting on his own human limitations, should bring us all a great deal of consolation. Pope Benedict, has offered a tremendous act of humility and courage, for the good of the entire Church. He knows, that given the fast-paced world in which we live, his prayer is the best gift he can give each one of us, as members of Christ’s Church. I know I speak for all faithful Catholics when I say, he is loved and he will be missed.

Join me, and the faithful of the whole world, in prayer for Pope Benedict, during these last weeks of his papacy, and that God will grant him serenity, as he quietly leaves the See of Peter, and the world stage. We pray in thanksgiving for the clear wisdom, deep love, and profound holiness he gently brought to the Office of Pope these past eight years. We pray too that his successor, our next Holy Father, will truly be a chief shepherd of the Church according to the heart of Christ.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino
Bishop of Madison 11 February 2013

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UPDATED Monday, February 11, 2013 --- 11:33 a.m.

LONDON (AP) -- When he became pope at age 78, Benedict XVI was already the oldest pontiff elected in nearly 300 years. He's now 85, and in recent years he has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences.

The pope travels to the altar in St. Peter's Basilica on a moving platform to spare him the 100-yard (-meter) walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane. Late last year, people who were spending time with the pontiff emerged saying they found him weak and too tired to engage with what they were saying.

The Vatican stressed on Monday that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Still, Benedict said his advanced age means he no longer has the necessary mental and physical strength to lead the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics.

That Benedict is tired would be a perfectly normal diagnosis for an 85-year-old pope, even someone with no known serious health problems and a still-agile mind.

He has acknowledged having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, but he later made a full recovery. In 2009, the pope fell and suffered minor injuries when he broke one of his wrists while vacationing in the Alps.

A doctor familiar with the pope's medical team told The Associated Press on Monday that the pontiff has no grave or life-threatening illnesses. But, the doctor said, the pope -- like many men his age -- has suffered some prostate problems. Beyond that, the pope is simply old and tired, the doctor said on condition of anonymity.

According to the pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, the pontiff was told by his doctor not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips. In fact, the pontiff's only foreign trip this year was scheduled to be a July visit to Brazil for the church's World Youth Day.

Experts weren't surprised the pope's health problems were slowing him down.

"In someone who's 85 and has arthritis, the activities of being a pope will be a struggle," said Dr. Alan Silman, the medical director of Arthritis Research U.K. He said Pope Benedict most likely has osteoarthritis, which causes people to lose the cartilage at the end of their joints, making it difficult to move around without pain.

"It would be painful for him to kneel while he's praying and could be excruciating when he tries to get up again," Silman said, adding that for people with arthritis, even standing for long periods of time can be challenging.

Silman said some drugs could help ease the pain, but most would come with side effects such as drowsiness or stomach problems, which would likely be more serious in the elderly.

The doctor said it isn't clear whether the pope's arthritis would worsen with age. "It could be it's as bad as it's going to get," he said. "But it already sounds like he has it pretty bad and continuing with all the activities of being the pope won't help."

Joe Korner, a spokesman for Britain's Stroke Association, said having a mild stroke also could be a warning of a possible major stroke in the future. "I would imagine the pope has been warned this could happen and that he should make some changes to his lifestyle," Korner said, including reducing stress levels.

When he became pope, Benedict replaced John Paul, who died in 2005 at the age of 84. He was the Vatican's most-traveled pontiff, visiting 129 countries during his nearly 27-year papacy and had captured the world's affection like no other pope.

In the last year of his life, John Paul was forced to curtail his travels because of old age and illness, including trembling hands and slurred speech, an inability to walk or hold his head up, and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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UPDATED Monday, February 11, 2013 --- 11:17 a.m.

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Declaring that he lacks the strength to do his job, Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he will resign Feb. 28 -- becoming the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. His decision sets the stage for a mid-March conclave to elect a new leader for a Roman Catholic Church in deep turmoil.

The 85-year-old pope dropped the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators even though he had made clear previously that he would step down if he became too old or infirm to carry on.

Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."

Indeed, the move allows the Vatican to hold a conclave before Easter to elect a new pope, since the traditional nine days of mourning that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.

It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor, though he will not himself vote. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals -- the princes of the church who will elect the next pope -- to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.

"Without doubt this is a historic moment," said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a protege and former theology student of Benedict's who himself is considered a papal contender. "Right now, 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath."

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, called the decision a "liberating act for the future," saying popes from now on will no longer feel compelled to stay on until their death.

"One could say that in a certain manner, Pope Benedict XVI broke a taboo," he told reporters in Paris.

There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner -- the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, that he remained fully lucid and took his decision independently.

"Any interference or intervention is alien to his style," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

It has been obvious to all that the pope has slowed down significantly in recent years, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. He now goes to and from the altar in St. Peter's Basilica on a moving platform to spare him the long walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane.

His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, said doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.

"His age is weighing on him," Ratzinger told the dpa news agency. "At this age, my brother wants more rest."

Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope requires "both strength of mind and body."

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited" to the demands of being the pope, he told the cardinals.

"In order to govern the bark (ship) of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary -- strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me," he said.

Popes are allowed to resign but church law says the decision must be "freely made and properly manifested." Still, only a handful have done it.

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.

There are good reasons why others haven't followed suit, primarily because of the fear of a schism with two living popes. Lombardi sought to rule out such a scenario, saying church law makes clear that a resigning pope no longer has the right to govern the church.

"Therefore there is no risk of a conflict," he told reporters.

When Benedict was elected in 2005 at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years. At the time, he had already been planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.

On Monday, Benedict said he would serve the church for the remainder of his days "through a life dedicated to prayer." The Vatican said immediately after his resignation, which takes effect at 8 p.m. Feb. 28, Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then would live in a cloistered monastery.

During his tenure, Benedict charted a very conservative course for the church, trying to reawaken Christianity in Europe where it had fallen by the wayside and return the church to its traditional roots, which he felt had been betrayed by an incorrect interpretation of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

His efforts though, were overshadowed by a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal, communication gaffes that outraged Jews and Muslims alike and, more recently, a scandal over leaked documents by his own butler. Many of his stated priorities as pope also fell short: he failed to establish relations with China, heal the schism and reunite with the Orthodox Church, or reconcile with a group of breakaway, traditionalist Catholics.

Still, most Vatican watchers saw his decision as the best thing to do for the church given his diminished capacities.

"It is an act ultimately of responsibility and love for the church," said the Rev. John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who teaches at the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome.

All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.

There are currently 118 cardinals under age 80 and thus eligible to vote, 67 of whom were appointed by Benedict. However, four of them will turn 80 before the end of March. Depending on the date of the conclave, they may or may not be allowed to vote.

Benedict in 2007 passed a decree requiring a two-thirds majority to elect a pope, changing the rules established by John Paul who had decided that the voting could shift to a simple majority after about 12 days of inconclusive voting. Benedict did so to prevent cardinals from merely holding out until the 12 days had passed to push through a candidate who only had only a slim majority.

Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.

Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope's conservative line, being from such a world super power will probably not count in his favor. That might also rule out Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative and the Vatican's top judge, even if he is known and respected by most Vatican cardinals.

Given half of the world's Catholics live in the global south, there will once again be arguments for a pope to come from the developing world.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, has impressed many Vatican watchers, but at 56 and having only been named a cardinal last year, he is considered too young.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is one of the highest-ranking African cardinals at the Vatican, currently heading the Vatican's office for justice and peace, but he's something of a wild card.

There are several "papabile" in Latin America, though the most well-known, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, is considered far too liberal to be elected by such a conservative College of Cardinals.

Whoever it is, he will face a church in turmoil: The sex abuse scandal has driven away thousands of people, particularly in Europe, from the church. Rival churches, particularly evangelical Pentecostal groups in the developing world, pose new competition. And as the pope himself has long lamented, many people in an increasingly secular world simply believe they don't need God.

The timing of Benedict's announcement was significant: Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, the most solemn period on the church's calendar that culminates with Holy Week and Easter on March 31. It is also the period in which the world witnessed the final days of John Paul's papacy in 2005.

The timing means that there will be a very big spotlight cast on Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Italian head of the Vatican's culture office who has long been on the list of "papabile." Benedict selected him to preside over the Vatican's spiritual exercises during Lent.

By Easter Sunday the Catholic Church will have a new leader, a potent symbol of rebirth in the church that echoes the resurrection of Christ celebrated on Easter.

Benedict, then known as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had an intimate view as Pope John Paul II, with whom he had worked closely for nearly a quarter-century, suffered through the debilitating end of his papacy.

Benedict himself raised the possibility of resigning if he were simply too old or sick to continue on, when he was interviewed in 2010 for the book "Light of the World."

"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," Benedict said.

But he stressed that resignation was not an option to escape a particular burden, such as the sex abuse scandal.

"When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation."

The announcement took the Vatican -- and the rest of the world -- by surprise.

Monday was a holiday at the Vatican, although some cardinals to name new saints. The announcement in Latin took cardinals in the room by surprise; others inside the Vatican who were listening in to the closed-circuit recording struggled to understand the Latin.

"All the cardinals remained shocked and were looking at each other," said Monsignor Oscar Sanchez of Mexico who was in the room when Benedict made his announcement.

Benedict was born April 16, 1927 in Marktl Am Inn, in Bavaria, but his father, a policeman, moved frequently and the family left when he was 2.

In his memoirs, Benedict dealt what could have been a source of controversy had it been kept secret -- that he was enlisted in the Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He said he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood. Two years later he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper. He deserted the German army in April 1945, the waning days of the war.

He called it prophetic that a German followed a Polish pope -- with both men coming from such different sides of World War II.

Benedict was ordained, along with his brother, in 1951. After spending several years teaching theology in Germany, he was appointed bishop of Munich in 1977 and elevated to cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI.

John Paul named him leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981 and he took up his post a year later. Following John Paul's death in 2005, he was elected pope April 19 in one of the fastest conclaves in history, just about 24 hours after the voting began.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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Updated: Monday February 11, 2013 -- 6:30 a.m.

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on -- the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.

He emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope -- the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide -- requires "both strength of mind and body."

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.

"However, 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 barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary -- strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.

Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."

The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.

There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner -- the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

When Benedict was elected pope at age 78 -- already the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years -- he had been already planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.

Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.

Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope's conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn't need a pope from a "superpower."

All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.

Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be "freely made and properly manifested."

Only a handful have done so, however and there's good reason why it hasn't become commonplace: Might the existence of two popes -- even when one has stepped down -- lead to divisions and instability in the church? Might a new resignation precedent lead to pressures on future popes to quit at the slightest hint of infirmity?

Benedict himself raised the possibility of resigning if he were simply too old or sick to continue on in 2010, when he was interviewed for the book "Light of the World."

"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," Benedict said.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had an intimate view as Pope John Paul II, with whom he had worked closely for nearly a quarter-century, suffered through the debilitating end of his papacy

Copyright 2013: Associated Press

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Posted: February 11, 2013 -- 5:28 a.m.

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican says that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on Feb. 28. Today's announcement was a surprise.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press


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