Pope Benedict XVI (right) delivers his message assisted by his aide Franco Camaldo (top) during a meeting of Vatican cardinals at the Vatican on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world Monday with his announcement that he would step down from the Roman Catholic Church’s highest office by the end of the month.
The church’s 100-plus cardinals, the princes of the Vatican, received the announcement first during a meeting with 85-year-old Benedict at the Vatican early Monday.
He said he is stepping down because with his advanced age and diminishing strength, he felt he could not carry on the job.
He will be the first pontiff to do so in over 600 years, and he leaves a scandal-plagued church rocked by allegations of child abuse at the hands of priests and a cover-up that extends to the pontiff himself.
In fact, his eight-year term has been riddled with controversy, not only on his handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests, but by statements he made about Muslims in 2006, and the Vatileaks controversy.
As quickly as the shock came, so, too, has frenzied speculation about who will replace him, including a debate about the merits of naming a pontiff from the developing world, where the church continues to grow, versus one from Europe, where it has deep historical roots.
That decision will not be made by Benedict, though, who will leave his post at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, but by 115 of the some 117 cardinals; two octogenarian cardinals lose the ecclesiastical franchise due to advanced age.
Cardinals likely to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who announced he will step down at the end of this month after an eight-year pontificate. Top row from left: Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga, Argentine Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Brazilian Joao Braz de Aviz, Philippines’ Luis Antonio Tagle, and Nigerian Peter Turkson. Bottom row from left: Austrian Cristoph Schonborn, Hungarian Peter Erdoe, Italian Angelo Scola, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Nigerian Francis Arinze, Nigerian John Onaiyekan, and the United States’ Timothy Dolan. (AFP-Yonhap News)
One candidate, and the highest-profile potentate from Latin America, could be the 63-year-old Archbishop of Sao Paolo Brazil, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer.
Although Benedict might not be able to select his own replacement, his influence will be felt -- by virtue of the fact he appointed 67 of the 117 cardinals who cast the holy ballots.
By Philip Iglauer (firstname.lastname@example.org)