Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he will be resigning the papacy effective Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict will become the first Pope to resign in over 600 years. According to UPI.com, Benedict revealed “a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.” Vatican officials plan to have a new pope in place by Easter and say that Benedict’s successor will come in facing a church with declining faith and a number of political issues.
“I was pretty shocked at the somewhat unexpected decision,” said Maureen O’Brien, “mostly because we weren’t as aware of his declining health as we were with Pope John Paul II.” O’Brien went on to say that she admired his decision because he made it for the love of the church. “He was willing to go outside the norm and make the decision for the good of the church,” O’Brien said.
The Vatican announced Saturday Feb. 16 that there is a possibility of holding Conclave, the ritual of electing a new pope, earlier than March 15. The current rule requires a 15 to 20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant, but the rule is only in place to allow travel time for Cardinals that do not live near Rome under the usual circumstance of the sitting Pope’s death causing the vacancy. Any change to the law would have to be approved by Benedict before he resigns.
“This Conclave is significant to this area. There will be three Pittsburgh Cardinals voting,” O’Brien said. All 3 Cardinals spent time with the Diocese of Pittsburgh. One Cardinal served in Greensburg before the Diocese Of Greensburg was established, as it’s own Diocese in 1951.
Benedict’s decision sparks a host of questions concerning the proceedings of the period known as “sede vacante” – or vacant seat. Vatican officials are unprepared since this period usually begins with a papal death.
“In this moment we are not prepared,” said Cardinal Franc Rode, in a statement to Fox News, “We have not been able to make predictions, strategies, plans, candidates. It is too early, but we will get there. In two or three weeks things will be put in place.” Rode is the former head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders who will vote in the conclave.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Vatican rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that “this is a question that people are discussing,” according to Fox News. Vatican officials can decide that this is just a matter of interpreting the existing law, in which case, “it is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy,” to move up the start of the conclave, Lombardi said.
The start of Conclave is significant because of the start of Holy Week on March 24. There is a strong tradition of holding installation mass of a new pope on a Sunday, which would have to happen on March 17. Cardinals expressed their concern of the tight timeframe if Conclave were to begin on March 15.
Benedict was elected as the successor to Pope John Paul II on April 19, 2005 at the age of 78; he was the oldest person to have been elected Pope since Pope Clement XII in 1730. Benedict will leave the papacy at age 85. Pope Gregory XII was the last pope to resign in 1415 to put an end to the Great Western Schism.