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Pope Benedict to Step Down

pope-benedict-bigPope Benedict XVI, 85, shocked millions across the world when he announced his intention to stand down at the end of February, citing the frailty of old age.

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VATICAN CITY — In front of rapt crowds, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy Wednesday during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square.

In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

Carolyn Costello reports.

VATICAN CITY — In front of rapt crowds, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy Wednesday during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square.

In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

Sara Welch has more.

VATICAN CITY — In front of rapt crowds, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy Wednesday during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square.

In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.”

pope-last-addressBut even as the church passes through stormy seas, God will “not let her sink,” he added, in what was his final general audience before he steps down Thursday evening.

Those words will be seen by many as a comment on the series of child sex abuse scandals and corruption claims that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the course of his pontificate.

Benedict recounted how when he was asked to be pope eight years ago, he had prayed for God’s guidance and had felt his presence “every day” since.

“It was a part of the journey of the church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy,” he said.

Tough choices’

Dressed all in white and looking serene, the pope used his last general audience to call for a renewal of faith and speak of his own spiritual journey through eight years as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Benedict thanked the cardinals, the clergy in Rome, Vatican officials and priests worldwide for their work, as well as their congregations, saying “the heart of a pope extends to the whole world.”

Knowing his strength was fading, he had taken the step of resignation well aware of its gravity and novelty, but also “with a deep peace of mind,” he said.

“Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices,” he said, as he called on the faithful to pray for him and the new pope.

Benedict gave an insight into the life of the pontiff, describing it as without any kind of privacy, with his time devoted entirely to the church — perhaps particularly difficult for a man known for his love of scholarship.

His life in retirement will be “simply a return to the private place. My decision is to forgo the exercise of active ministry, not revoke it.

In order to return to private life, not to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on,” he said.

As he finished, cheers erupted from the tens of thousands gathered in the square — acknowledged by Benedict with an open-armed embrace.

‘Support and love’

Vatican officials said 50,000 tickets had been handed out for Benedict’s last general audience — but authorities said they had prepared for as many as 200,000 people to show up to witness the historic moment in person.

Benedict, who spoke first in Italian, also gave greetings in French, German and English, among other languages, reflecting the church’s global reach.

CNN iReporter Joel Camaya, a priest from the Philippines who is studying in Rome, said it was very moving to be among those gathered in the huge plaza.

Waves of applause rose up to meet Benedict, especially when he addressed the pilgrims in different languages. “I really felt all the support and all the love, the prayers, from those who were present,” he said.

After the pope left, people’s mood was festive, with many chatting or singing, Camaya said, but at the same time nostalgic because it’s the last time they will hear Benedict speak.

“Especially for people who have got used coming here for the audience and for the (Sunday) Angelus, it’s something to be missed,” he said.

Those lucky enough to have tickets for the final audience listened from seats in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Among them were many of the Roman Catholic Church’s senior clergy. Others packed around the edges of the square and surrounding side streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

Among the crowds were groups of pilgrims who had traveled to Rome for the special occasion, as well as local residents and curious visitors keen to share in the moment.

Benedict arrived and left in his Popemobile, allowing him to pass close by many people in St. Peter’s Square.

Standing in the glass-topped vehicle, flanked by security, he waved as he slowly made his way along pathways through the crowds. Some waved flags and banners as they stood under cold but clear skies.

Normally in winter, the pope would give his weekly Wednesday general audience inside a hall within Vatican City, but the event was moved outside because of the anticipated huge crowds.

Pontiff emeritus

The pope didn’t give the usual brief personal greetings to people afterward, but was to meet with delegations of heads of state in Vatican City.

Benedict, who stunned the world’s Catholics when he announced his resignation just over two weeks ago, will leave office at 8 p.m. local time Thursday.

At that point, a transition period will begin, as around 115 cardinals gather in Rome to pick a successor in a secretive election known as a conclave.

The Vatican has been rewriting the rules to cope with an almost unprecedented situation — Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

He will meet with the cardinals Wednesday and Thursday, before being flown by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

There, from a balcony, he will greet crowds one last time before his resignation takes effect and the Swiss Guards, who by tradition protect the pope, ceremonially leave the residence’s gate.

More details were given Tuesday of how the 85-year-old’s life in retirement will play out.

He will keep the papal title Benedict XVI, rather than reverting to the name Joseph Ratzinger, and will be referred to as “his holiness,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

He will also go by the title his holiness “pontiff emeritus” or “pope emeritus.”

Interference fears

Living out of the public eye in a small monastery within Vatican City, Benedict will wear a simple white robe, without the papal red cape, and will swap his red shoes for brown ones.

He is expected to devote his time to prayer and study.

Catholic author Michael Walsh told CNN he was unsurprised by Benedict’s desire for more privacy.

“He’s a rather private man. He wants to get back to his books and his cats, he wants to get back to prayer,” he said. “He’s obviously coming towards the end of his life — he’s 85 — so I understand that.”

But, Walsh added, “what I don’t understand is that he says he wants to be part of it all, which could be disastrous if you take it at face value,” referring to Benedict’s promise not to abandon the church.

“The notion that you have two people that claim to be pope, in a sense, is really going to be very confusing,” Walsh said.

Vatican officials have said they don’t anticipate any interference from Benedict as a new pope takes office.

However, his influence will be felt in as much as he appointed 67 of the cardinals who will enter the conclave.

Whoever his successor may be will have plenty on his plate, from allegations swirling in the Italian media that gay clergy may have made themselves vulnerable to blackmail by male prostitutes — a claim forcefully denied by the Vatican — to the festering issue of the church’s handling of child abuse by priests.

Scandal flared again over the weekend, as Scotland’s Roman Catholic archbishop was accused in a UK newspaper report of “inappropriate behavior” with priests. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who contests the allegations, resigned Monday and said he would not attend the conclave.

The Most Rev. Philip Tartaglia, archbishop of Glasgow, will take his place until a new archbishop is appointed, the Vatican said Wednesday. “These are painful and distressing times,” Tartaglia is quoted as saying.

The Vatican said Monday that a report by three cardinals into leaks of secret Vatican documents, ordered by Benedict last year and seen only by him, would be passed on to the new pontiff.

Cardinals’ conclave

Meanwhile, the cardinals who must elect the new pope are already gathering in Rome, Lombardi said.

The dean cardinal will on Friday summon the cardinals to a general congregation, Lombardi said. That could come as soon as Monday, although the date is not yet fixed.

The cardinal-electors will then decide exactly when to hold the conclave, during which they will select a peer via paper ballot. The voting process will end when only when one cardinal gains two-thirds support.

After his resignation, Benedict, who cited the frailty of age as the reason he resigned, will no longer use the Fisherman’s Ring, the symbol of the pope, Lombardi said.

The ring will be destroyed, along with Benedict’s papal seal, after his departure from office.

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — Pope Benedict XVI led tens of thousands in a prayer for strength Sunday and thanked followers for their support during his second-to-last Angelus prayer as pontiff.

pope-benedict-pic“Today we contemplate Christ in the desert, fasting, praying, and being tempted,” the pope said to an unusually large crowd at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“As we begin our Lenten journey, we join him and we ask him to give us strength to fight our weaknesses. Let me also thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days. May God bless all of you!”

Benedict, 85, shocked millions across the world last week when he announced his intention to stand down at the end of the month, citing the frailty of old age.

The decision makes him the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.

Referring Sunday to a Bible passage, the pope said, “During the decisive moments of our lives, and in fact at every moment, we are in front of a crossroads: Do we want to follow the I or God? The individual interest or the true good, that which really is the good?”

The crowd appeared to have about 100,000 people

He also tweeted a message to followers worldwide, calling on them to “rediscover faith” as a foundation.

Cardinals may meet before March 15 to choose the next pope if they are all in Rome, a Vatican spokesman said Saturday. The conclave will bring together the 117 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

VATICAN CITY — In the last public Mass of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted his followers Wednesday to “return to God” and warned against the dangers of internal division just as the Roman Catholic Church begins preparations to pick a new leader to replace him.

Thousands of the faithful packed St. Peter’s Basilica to hear the outgoing pontiff inaugurate the season of Lent, traditionally a time of somber introspection and penitence for Christians.

Benedict’s Ash Wednesday homily, delivered in a shaky voice, traced those familiar themes, but took on added significance and poignancy in light of his surprise announcement Monday that he was giving up his post at the end of the month.

Believers, he said, should reflect on the sins of disunity that had, at times, “disfigured” the face of the church and its message to the world.

“Overcoming individualism and rivalry is a humble and precious sign for those who have distanced themselves from the faith or who are indifferent,” the pope said.

Arrayed before Benedict were the dozens of cardinals who will elect one of their number to succeed him. Critics have assailed the Vatican as being rife with factionalism and dysfunction, problems that some say may have informed the decision by a wearied Benedict to step down.

During the service, attendees wiped away tears as the 85-year-old pope, looking stooped and wan, rubbed ashes on devotees’ heads, distributed communion and issued a blessing in the cavernous splendor of the centuries-old basilica. Vatican officials had moved the service from its usual venue, a much smaller church, to St. Peter’s to accommodate the crowds who started lining up for entry hours before the Mass began.

The congregation burst into a standing ovation toward the end of the two-hour service, applause that threatened to go on for several minutes until Benedict broke in and said: “Thank you. Let’s get back to the prayer.”

It was a characteristically modest interpolation for a reserved and intellectual pope who has never seemed entirely comfortable with public adulation or pressing the flesh. The people who turned out to see him during his international travels were often respectful rather than raucous like the throngs that greeted his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

But the acclaim was more fulsome Wednesday amid the knowledge that his papacy is about to draw to a sudden close, from choice and not from death. His weekly general audience, his first appearance in public since he announced his resignation, opened to sustained applause from the thousands who managed to get in.

Benedict reiterated his statement that he no longer had the strength to meet the demands of the papacy; his exit now, he said, was “for the good of the church.” He thanked followers for their outpouring of goodwill in “these days that haven’t been easy for me” and requested that they “continue to pray for me, the church and the future pope.”

In his homily, Benedict revisited passages from the book of Joel that he cited in his first Ash Wednesday service as pope, in 2006.

Vincenzo Opportuno and his family drove 300 miles from Padua to Rome to be present for what they described as an “extraordinary moment in history,” a final public Mass by a pope whose departure date from office is now known to the world, not just to God.

“We’d like to be here to pray with him on this special occasion,” said Opportuno, 28, who regards Benedict as an exemplary pontiff. “He spoke in a way that everybody could understand — people who are not Catholics or Christians, a way to explain the faith.”

Church officials said for the first time Wednesday that Benedict might provide counsel to the new pope from his intended retirement residence in a renovated monastery on Vatican grounds, only a few hundred yards from the papal apartment.

Some commentators have expressed concern about unclear lines of authority and divided loyalties within the Vatican with a former pontiff who not only remains alive but so close at hand. But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi waved away such worries.

“The successor and cardinals will be very happy to have nearby a person who more than anyone understands the spiritual needs of the church and his successor,” Lombardi said. “He will be discreet and sustain his successor with spiritual service.”

Until his final day on the job, Benedict is expected to maintain a regular schedule of events and meetings, including one with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

His last public appearance as pope will be his Feb. 27 general audience, which will be held in St. Peter’s Square. The following morning, he will bid farewell to his cardinals; later, he will have his own personal ascension day when a helicopter lifts him above the Vatican and delivers him to the papal summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where he will spend some time before moving into his new residence.

Special correspondent Tom Kington contributed to this report.

Catholics all across southern California still taking in the news that their spiritual leader, pope Benedict the 16th is stepping down due to his age.

“I think he thought of his health and mental physical condition and made a wise decision.”  said Archbishop Jose Gomez.  “His decision to resign was an act of love.”

During afternoon mass, at the Los Angeles archdiocese, Archbishop Jose Gomez praised the pope – even comparing him to a saint.

Among some of his successes – the 85-year-old pope made a brave push to connect online – starting his own twitter account.

In a small amount of time he reached 1.5 million followers.

Upon hearing the pontiff’s surprise announcement celebrities were quick to react online.

Piers Morgan tweeted – “as a Catholic I’m not buying this. Popes don’t quit just bc they’re tired. What’s going on here.”

Pope Benedict leaves at a time when the Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by scandal.

Archbishop Gomez seemed to touch on the sensitive issue at this afternoons service.

“May we continue to pray in a special way for anyone who has been hurt by a member of the church,” Archbishop Gomez said.

– Stefan Chase, KTLA News.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he will step down on Feb. 28 due to failing health, stunning the world’s 1 billion Catholics by becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the office.

The German pontiff, 85, made his surprise statement to cardinals during a Vatican concistory on Monday, saying “my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” a reference to his duties as leader of the church.

Speaking at a ceremony held to canonize three new saints, Benedict said he would step down at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said a conclave of cardinals would be held in March to elect a new pope in time for Easter.

Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, said Benedict’s announcement was a “bolt out of the blue.”

Describing his decision as being “of great importance for the life of the church,” Benedict told cardinals that “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary.”

His strength, he added, “has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Vatican insiders have noted that Benedict has become more frail in recent months; he requires a moving platform to transport him down the aisle at St Peter’s Basilica during services and has slowed during his walks in the Vatican gardens. His private life was recently exposed to public scrutiny after his butler was convicted by a Vatican court for leaking papal correspondence.

Lombardi said Benedict had not been persuaded to step down by a particular illness, but said “he had become more tired and fatigued than in the past.”

Benedict’s decision, which he described as being “of great importance for the life of the church,” marks the first papal resignation since Pope Gregory XII reluctantly stepped down in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy. The last pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months.

Benedict told cardinals he wished to “devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” Lombardi said the pope would transfer from his papal apartment to live in a building in the Vatican’s gardens formerly occupied by nuns. The pope, who has recently finished a series of three books about the life of Jesus, could continue to write books, Lombardi said.

Beyond giving details of the coming conclave, Lombardi said the Vatican was entering unchartered waters with a pope set to replace a living, former pope. “We are heading into an unknown situation,” he said at a hastily called Vatican news conference.

Describing the moment the pope made his announcement, Lombardi said “the pope sat down, took the microphone and read his statement shortly after 11:30,” adding “he said it in Latin so not everyone understood immediately.”

Lombardi said he had no fear that Vatican officials — unaccustomed to sharing the Holy See with a former pope — might continue to defer to Benedict. “This is recognized by canon law, there is no risk of confusion,” he said.

Lombardi said the German pontiff, who was elected in 2005 at age 78, had shown “courage, a humble spirit, responsibility and a desire that the church be governed in the best way,” adding that he had met the pope recently and found him “serene.” The pontiff’s decision, he said, “did not completely surprise me.”

Benedict has previously suggested that a pope could break with tradition and step down if he no longer felt able to carry out his duties.

In a book-length interview, “Light of the World,” with the German journalist Peter Seewald, Benedict responded to a question about whether a pope could resign: “Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

The pope’s decision will trigger weeks of speculation about who will take his place as the Vatican recovers from the scandal of pedophile priests and seeks to retain believers as the church challenges rights to abortion and gay marriage.

Asked if Benedict had set an example for future popes to resign instead of dying in office, often after debilitating illness, Lombardi said: “This is not intended to influence successors,” but he added, “Next time [it happens], it won’t be the first time in centuries, it could be an approach to the problem.”

One Vatican expert said Benedict had probably been mulling his decision to resign since his election eight years ago. “When he took over the church had been through the suffering from illness of his predecessor John Paul II,” said John Thavis.

“It will have put in his mind questions about the governance of the church if the pope becomes incapable,” he said.

LOS ANGELES — Cardinal Roger M. Mahony praised outgoing Pope Benedict XVI for his legacy of spreading Catholicism throughout the world and said he looks forward to traveling to Vatican City to help elect a successor.

mahony-votePope Benedict announced Monday during a Vatican consistory that he would be resigning at the end of the month. “My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said.

Benedict said he would step down at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. A conclave of cardinals will be held in March to elect a new pope in time for Easter.

He is the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the office.

In a statement issued Monday morning, Mahony said it was his privilege to participate in the April 2005 conclave to elect Benedict.

“I recall so clearly his words when he told the cardinals that he was choosing the name of Benedict because of his fondness for the prayerfulness and the Rule of St. Benedict, and also because Pope Benedict XV [1914—1920] served during a time of turmoil and wars across the world,” Mahony said.

“His homilies and addresses were so amazing because he was not speaking about Jesus Christ as a topic, but he was speaking about Jesus from a deep and intimate knowledge of Jesus himself,” according to Mahony’s statement. “Surely one of his great legacies will be a continuing emphasis on the need for all Catholics to exercise their role as evangelizers in the world. His focus upon the new evangelization will continue to enliven all disciples of Jesus.”

Cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote. They are sequestered in Vatican City and take an oath of secrecy.

Last month, after the release of thousands of pages of records about sexual abuse by priests, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced that he had relieved Mahony of all public duties. The move, spurred by what Gomez said was Mahony’s mishandling of the abuse cases, is unprecedented in the American Catholic Church.

Despite the public censure, Mahony is still allowed to help select a new Pope.

“I look forward to traveling to Rome soon to help thank Pope Benedict XVI for his gifted service to the Church, and to participate in the conclave to elect his successor.

Mahony has since apologized for his actions in the sexual-abuse cases.

Mahony also reminded Gomez: “I apologized for those mistakes, and committed myself to make certain that the archdiocese was safe for everyone. Unfortunately, I cannot return now to the 1980s and reverse actions and decisions made then. But when I retired as the active archbishop, I handed over to you an archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth.”

-Los Angeles Times

Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world Monday by announcing he’s resigning.

The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, said he will resign at the end of the month “because of advanced age.”

It’s the first time a pope has resigned in nearly 600 years.