The Pope Resigns!

Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation in latin at the Vatican. February 11, 2013

Holy Smoke!  The Pope announced his resignation today, the first Pope to do so in nearly 600 years.  My Monday started out with the usual rush to get kids out the door to school and get myself to work.  When I got to the office I wrote our daily office “opener” to our London editors listing the events going on in Italy that we would, and would not be, covering.  On the list was: “Pope Announcing New Saints– uppick Vatican TV on merit”, which is our way of saying that if anything newsworthy came out of the event we would get the material off Vatican Television.  After discussing various news plans for our coverage of the upcoming national elections in Italy (February 24th) with my boss, we decided to go downstairs for a cappuccino and cornetto at our local coffee bar.  As we were walking to the coffee bar, my husband called me on the phone, yelling.  I told him to stop yelling that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  He slowed down and said he had just heard on the radio that the Pope had announced he was resigning.  I laughed and told him it was a joke, he insisted it wasn’t.  I told him I would look into it after my cappuccino.  I then told my boss and the two of us started laughing.  It was impossible.  Popes don’t resign.  We had both covered Pope John Paull II from 1994 until his death in 2005 — and even when he couldn’t walk or speak, he still remained in his position.  The Papacy, we thought, was a position, that lasts until death.  We continued to the coffee bar.  Then my boss got a phone call and we started getting worried.

Within half an hour I was at the Vatican with several crews.  We covered the Pope’s spokesman Father Federico Lombardi as he tried to explain the bombshell to a bewildered press corps.

Pope Benedict XVI is the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years, the last one to do so was Gregory XII in 1417.  Pope Celestine V resigned in 1294 and Italy’s most famous writer, Dante, put him in inferno for it.

So why did Benedict XVI do it?  Well, he gave a clear and concise explanation, unfortunately it was in Latin, so many people did not catch on right away, but this is what he said:

“I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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.”

To sum up, the 85-year-old Pope is tired of leading the Catholic Church and does not feel he has the strength to carry on.  From the first day on the job, it was clear that Pope Benedict XVI was more of a refined intellectual than a charismatic leader, he likes to play the piano, read, reflect and pray.  He has found the time to write three books about Jesus since becoming Pope.

The Pope said his resignation will take effect officially at 8pm on February 28th, opening the way for a Conclave to elect a new Pope in March.

I hope to be at the Vatican for his last day as I was for his first, see blog post “The Election of Pope Benedict XVI“.  Just as on the day he was elected, although eight years have past, I still found myself trying to resolve family demands from St. Peter’s Square– who would take Chiara to her Confirmation Class, who would take Nico to his water-polo practice, who would pick up Caterina at a friend’s house.  As I edited video and wrote stories at the Vatican while juggling family matters, a massive thunderstorm broke out at the Vatican.  A photographer managed to catch lightning hitting St. Peter’s Basilica prompting some funny tweets about God’s opinion on the matter.

Lightning Strikes St. Peter’s Basilica Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI Announces his Resignation. Credit: www.repubblica.it

Blog Readers, it is late and there is so much to say, so much to comment on the papacy of Benedict XVI– I have so many thoughts and opinions, but since I have to be back at the Vatican at 8am tomorrow I won’t do that now.  Let me just say that over the past eight years I have travelled with Pope Benedict XVI to Brazil, Turkey, the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Malta and Cyprus.  On these trips I learned a lot of about Benedict XVI, by the way he spoke to reporters on the Papal plane, and the way he interacted with world leaders and common people around the globe.  I have also learned a lot covering the Papacy in Rome.  It has been a busy eight years and he is leaving a mixed legacy.

Pope Benedict XVI will head to his summer residence, the Castel Gandolfo, for the few weeks following his resignation, and he is expected to retire to a monastery of cloistered nuns within the Vatican walls.

The next month will be busy at work as we chase after arriving Cardinals, trying to get interviews with those who are considered “Papabili”, possible future Popes. I will do a Papabili post soon.

 

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

25 Comments

  1. Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/02/12

    I have been waiting for you to post on this startling development since I heard the announcement this morning. I even mentioned it to my Italian chit-chat group today that they should be reading your blog. As a former news reporter for one of your wire service competitors, I know how frantic it can get when big news breaks. I look forward to reading more about your take on the situation when you have more time to reflect and fill us in on your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      Hi Linda — I have no time to reflect right now. Just running around like a chicken with my head cut off (which is more or less what the Vatican is about to become for the next month). Which wire agency did you work for? Whatever one in is, you then are familiar with 24/7 deadlines. I will update the blog as often as I can though, I get interesting feedback from all my blog readers that is useful to me.

      Reply
  2. Kathy
    2013/02/12

    I’m Catholic, a teacher at a Catholic school and went to a papal audience at the Vatican last September but the first thing I thought of when I heard the news this morning was ‘oh boy, is Trisha going to be busy!’.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      Well, you sure were right about that. I’ve told my kids that they won’t be seeing me much until after Easter. Right now I am running on adrenalin, but when it runs out it is going to be rough going.

      Reply
  3. Fabrizio Padua
    2013/02/12

    Hi Tricia,

    both my wife Laura and myself were speechless after this breaking news, and today which is the day after the announcement we are still puzzled.

    It will take time to understand what really happened, the only thing I can say is that we are witness of an historical event and we are now looking for our 5th Pope in our lifetime (who knows if he is going to be the last one ?).

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      Ciao Fabrizio — Thank you for your comment. It is all so shocking and puzzling and there are so many questions for the near future. The Pope’s spokesman clarified again today that Benedict XVI will have no part whatsoever in the next Conclave (although his influence will be felt by his choice of so many of the Cardinals), but where will he be during the next Papal Inauguration? I assume he would stay away, but who knows? There were so many questions today at the Vatican about his health, about the stress of the Vatileaks scandal, about on-going infighting among Italian Cardinals. Only time will tell.

      Reply
  4. Nancy Rockwell
    2013/02/12

    So glad you will write more about this, and love the detail that Gustavo gave you a scoop and you were incredulous! I am a bit incredulous myself, disbelieving that we have heard the full story. While it is reasonable for a man of 85 to want to stop working as CEO of a global corporation, it is suspicious that he resigned so suddenly, and has practically packed his bags already, in order to leave so soon. And then I am more suspicious of his plan, to go live among cloistered nuns inside the Vatican. I think he is running from something. Is it just that he doesn’t want to be another horror show, like his predecessor, declining into death on world-wide TV? Or is some scandal about to break, of such a nature that he just cannot manage it, and wants to escape to a fortress so secure no one can pursue him there? This is a man who spent half a century in the center of the political fray, condemning people’s writings, policing thought. It is inconceivable to me that he wants to retire into silence and prayer. I hope that you and the rest of the press are sniffing for the scent of the real reasons.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      I don’t have many answers to your questions Nancy, but I can tell you one thing– the Pope is not going to live with nuns in the Cloistered Monastery– they were asked to leave last fall so renovations could be made to prepare it for the Pope. It seems Benedict XVI has often given nuns the short end of the stick. He will take the entire place once he retires.

      Reply
  5. Alan
    2013/02/12

    . . shall not go down the road about organised religions – might never get that that invite for cappuccino again :-)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      Alan — you can say whatever you want to me about organized religions, I am always ready to listen and I will never renege on my offer of a cappuccino the next time you are in Rome.

      Reply
  6. Pauline
    2013/02/12

    I had the exact same reaction as you did! It took me a while before I actually accepted the fact that Benedict was resigning! I just never knew that Popes could do that!

    Reply
  7. lega
    2013/02/12

    The cynic in me thinks that there is more to this story than we will ever know now that he will be cloistered with nuns. I also read somewhere that more nuns were victims of sexual abuse by priests than any other group of people. Shouldn’t the Pope be cared for by other priests. Why do women have to be his servants? Sorry about this posting (which you don’t have to post if you think it is too inflammatory). Yes, I’m a disgruntled Catholic!!!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/12

      Lega, of course I am going to post your comment. You are not the only disgruntled Catholic out there. There are plenty of mysteries around this one, and I don’t have many answers, but I can clarify on one. The Pope’s spokesman said today that the Cloistered nuns have left. Last fall they left (were kicked out) to allow for the renovations to begin on the monastery making it ready for the retired Pope Benedict XVI. I can imagine the nuns were not too happy about that.

      Reply
  8. Rick Breco
    2013/02/13

    With all the buzz at work I knew I could count on you to keep us abreast of things!!!
    Thanks!
    Rick

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/13

      Rick — What an honor! I didn’t know you read my blog. How about setting up a Noi Salon on Via Della Conciliazione — you would do a booming business with all the correspondents flying into town who need their hair done all the time before they go on air. And in between all the big shots, you could do a little charity work on my hair! I am looking pretty frazzled these days!

      Reply
  9. Nancy Rockwell
    2013/02/13

    Thanks for clarifying about the nunnery. Makes so much more sense now. And the possibilities for political intrigue are endless . . . there will be two Popes in Vatican City . . . of course, Ben may be ill, and not saying that. Or . . .

    Reply
  10. JWT
    2013/02/13

    First, good luck to you and all the family as you embark on a wild ride from now till Easter. Hope you all manage le deluge.

    Perhaps there is a deeper more mysterious explanation but I give Benedict credit for understanding the limits of age and capacity and recognizing that the Church needed someone more robust to deal with its current challenges.

    Hang in there. as you start this on this rollercoaster ride. Remember your sanity and essential family needs come before blog!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/13

      Good advice! I am riding on adrenalin now and will probably come down with a terrible thump. Yes, family must be my priority over blog. There is a temptation to blog away in a moment like this but I will restrain myself.

      Reply
  11. jolly joker
    2013/02/13

    i can write many things about him, particularly when he was a young boy but, if i will write my thoughts i might be crucified

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/13

      Dear Jolly Joker — don’t worry you will not be crucified for your thoughts about this Pope. Benedict XVI seems to have attracted a lot of hostility for his first day. From day one they called him the “German Shephard”. Not exactly a compliment. And a German colleague of mine today showed me a headline in a German paper that had a white cover, and just the Pope’s red shoes at the bottom and a headline that said, “Thank God”. So, you are not alone.

      Reply
  12. Sally
    2013/02/13

    Scan-da-lo! Trisha, our super-slueth, we’ll leave it up to you to get to the bottom of this. How funny that your husband ‘scooped’ you on your own ‘beat!’ I read the news on Facebook when I awoke the morning of Feb 11. After re-reading the post numerous times, I thought to myself, “Trish will be busy today!” Maybe the cardinals will choose “Mr. Handsome” (Padre Georg) as next pope?! Does he even qualify? Looking forward to your forthcoming posts… And hoping to see the white smoke coming out of the Vatican chimney sooner rather than later for you and your family’s sake.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/13

      Scandalo indeed….I am not sure I am much of a good Vatican sleuth, I have spent the past two days running frentically around the Vatican interviewing analysts, Cardinals, priests, nuns, tourists and more or less anyone who will talk to us on camera. So, I am not sure I will be getting to the bottom of anything. But if I do discover anything interesting, I will let my blog readers know.

      Reply
  13. Adri
    2013/02/14

    Isn’t this just one of those once in a lifetime occurrences for a Vatican reporter? The announcement must have taken your breath away, and I presume you’ll be positively consumed with this until a new Pope is chosen. I look forward to your future reports – you certainly have a prime vantage point.

    One thing – will the Pope carry Padre Georg way into retirement with him? Since your profile of Padre Georg I find that I can pick him out of the photos, and being able to identify him has made the entire circle of people seem more real and lent a depth of understanding not previously possessed. I’d love for future posts to introduce us to the other men who surround the Pope. About the more recent shots of Padre Georg – I am struck by his grave countenance. The deep spiritual impact of this is lost on lay people such as myself. I really have no grasp whatsoever on the depth of the belief of these men. None whatsoever.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/02/14

      Adri — I thought covering John Paul II’s death, funeral and the last Conclave were a once-in-a-lifetime occurence, but a Papal retirement is another once-in-a-lifetime experience. It has been insanely busy and every night I begin writing a blog post on the interviews and events of the day and eventually give up. Tonight I want to write about Padre Georg if I manage to find the energy, you will get the latest on his situation.

      Reply
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    2017/04/09

    […] died. Having covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013 (see blog post: The Pope Resigns!) I was curious to visit the castle and see his […]

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