Pope Benedict says in a historic announcement he no longer has the mental and physical strength to run the Roman Catholic Church and will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, leaving his inner circle “incredulous”.
Church officials tried to relay a climate of calm confidence in the running of a 2000-year-old institution but the decision could lead to one of the most uncertain and unstable periods in centuries for a Church besieged by scandal and defections.
The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XI in 1378 and the last voluntary resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294.
In a general sense I think it is a good think when leaders retire, rather than carry on until death – no matter how infirm. Pope Benedict may have helped set a useful precedent for the future.
I note with monarchies that today many monarchs will live to be 100, which means that their children may not succeed to the throne until they are 70 years old – or older. A retirement age would be a sensible thing.
Resigning after just eight years may put some pressure on the College on Cardinals to elect a younger Pope. No doubt in the following weeks speculation will focus on who his successor will be.