16 February 2013, 18:02

Pope resigns, future uncertain

Pope resigns, future uncertain
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Pope Benedict XVI will step down on February 28. He announced his decision to step down ahead of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Easter Lent on the Roman Catholic calendar.

All throughout the week reporters, experts and analysts alike have been reflecting on the reasons behind the decision, likely candidates to take over the Papacy, and the future of the Roman Catholic Church. 

The pope’s announcement to resign his Papacy took believers and representatives of the Roman Curia by surprise. Pope Benedict XVI has become the first pope to resign in the last 600 years. For many, the official reason for his resignation – old age and deteriorating health – sounded unconvincing. Media outlets, Internet forums and blogs have been citing other reasons for the pope’s departure. They say his term was marred by a number of scandals, he was unable to resist liberal trends in church affairs, or effectively deal with undercover intrigues in the Vatican, which led to the pontiff’s rapidly declining popularity. Even Saint Malachy’s Prophecies about the Last 10 Popes was brought to light. All this is but speculation and has nothing to do with reality, says Father Igor Kovalevsky, Secretary-General of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia.

"There is nothing surprising about the pope’s decision to step down. He has chosen to do this for the good of the church, having considered all pros and cons and demonstrating utmost courage and humility. As for Saint Malachy’s Prophecies, I’m keen on cheap mysticism and wouldn’t advise anyone to fall for it. Whoever is trying to play it up has a weak belief. And when one doesn’t believe in God, he will believe in anything." 

Straight after the current Pope stepped down bookmakers started putting stakes on the future head of the Vatican without waiting for the day when the Holy See remains vacant. Among the candidates are cardinals from Italy, Germany, Canada and two from Africa. Incidentally, the latter intrigued the public most of all. Firstly, because nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and, secondly, because their election could promote a return of Christianity to African and Middle East countries. In any case, the future of the Roman Catholic Church directly depends on the elected pontiff, Yuri Tabak continues.

“The Catholic Church is based on a vertical power structure, unlike the Orthodox Church managed by the community of bishops and where the Patriarch is considered to be the first among equals. In Catholicism the Pope is considered to be St. Peter’s successor on Earth, he makes decisions on his own and these decisions are compulsory for the Church. In this connection, a lot depends on the Pope’s personality. For example, we could remember Popes John XXIII called ‘joyful Pope’ and John Paul II who was much loved by everyone. Many political scientists believe that the political map of the world changed and the Socialist bloc collapsed to a large degree owing to John Paul II.”

The Russian Orthodox Church called Benedict XVI’s decision an ‘act of personal courage’. Relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches considerably improved during his pontificate. Even though a meeting of the primates of the two Churches never took place the prospect of such a meeting did not provoke a negative response from Orthodox priests. The Moscow Patriarchate emphasized that such a meeting should not be just a formal event but actually solve problems that exist between Catholics and Orthodox Christians today. The dialogue is certain to continue with a new Pope.

After his resignation, Benedict XVI will spend some time at the summer residence in Castel Gondolfo and then will settle down in a cloistered convent which is actually a former gardener’s house inside the Vatican. The name of the future head of the Roman Catholic Church will become known during the Conclave which is to convene after the 15th of March.

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