On Monday, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI Ratzinger, whose resignation is due on Thursday, signed a special decree giving the College of Cardinals “the possibility to expedite” a conclave to elect his successor. Benedict said, “I leave the College of Cardinals the possibility to bring forward the start of the conclave once all cardinals are present, or push the beginning of the election back by a few days should there be serious reasons”. Traditionally, a conclave begins between 15 and 20 days after there’s a vacancy in the papacy.
On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI told tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square in a voice breaking with emotion that he was resigning because God had called on him to devote himself to prayer but he said that he wouldn’t abandon the Church. He told the crowd from the window of his residence in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, “The Lord’s calling me to climb the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation, but this doesn’t mean abandoning the Church”. Benedict said that he’d serve the church with the same dedication he has until now, but he’d do so in a way “more suitable to my age and my strength”. Benedict, 85, intends to spend his last years in prayer, meditation, and seclusion in a monastery in Vatican City.
About 200,000 Catholics filled St Peter’s Square in Rome to listen to Pope Benedict XVI for the last time. The pontiff, who’s stepping down on 28 February, addressed them from his balcony with traditional Sunday prayers. Over the last 700 years, Benedict is the second Pope to step down voluntarily with no outside pressure whatsoever. Frequently, many reproached the pope for conservatism, as he carried out no reforms at all to introduce the Catholic Church to the 21st century. Spiteful tongues even said that Benedict’s only contribution to Vatican reforms was changing the ceremony of the Pope’s inauguration to the Holy See.
Russian experts differed in their opinions of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Professor Aleksei Yudin from the Russian State University for the Humanities told VOR, “It’d be wrong to consider Benedict XVI extremely conservative. There was no extreme conservatism in his pontificate. On the contrary, he was moderately conservative. There’s no denying the fact that the previous epoch of John Paul II’s pontificate was very turbulent, and that Benedict had to observe a balance between the two epochs, whilst continuing his predecessor’s policy. There’s no great gap between those epochs”. Expert Yuri Tabak from the Moscow Human Rights Bureau believed that Benedict XVI was conservative, saying, “We should bear in mind that the Pope’s personality wasn’t charismatic, against the background of his predecessor John Paul II, whom everybody loved. Benedict didn’t have such a striking personality. In addition, his conservatism prevented him from becoming popular in the Catholic world”.
Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will turn 86 in April. After 28 February, he’ll retire to a monastery in the Vatican. The date of the cardinals’ conclave to elect the next Pope isn’t yet set. The approximate date is 15 March, to elect a new Pope before Catholic Easter, which falls on 31 March this year.
25 February 2013
Voice of Russia World Service