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.
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.