Catholic shock as Pope plans to step down

 
Elizabeth Fournier
THE POPE’S closest advisers were left reeling yesterday after the 85-year-old pontiff revealed he would step down from the position in just over two weeks, blaming age and declining health for his decision.

In an unexpected speech to senior cardinals Pope Benedict XVI said: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Pope Benedict’s abdication is the first since 1415, when Gregory XII stepped down following a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.

His successor will be chosen by a group of senior cardinals, who will meet as soon as the current Pope officially leaves his post at 8pm on 28 February.

“In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith ... both strength of mind and body are necessary,” he said yesterday.

“Strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

Chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said no specific illness had led to the announcement, and that Pope Benedict did not intend to influence the decision of the cardinals who will choose his successor.

Several candidates have already emerged as frontrunners to become the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, including Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria, Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and Italian Angelo Scola.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the pontiff in the House of Commons yesterday, saying “He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.”

“Pope Benedict has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See,” he added.

THE VATICAN ON BANKING AND THE ECONOMY

Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”

The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from influences of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way.”

The world is sadly marked by hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor,” the Pope said, “by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”

The creation of ethical structures for currency, financial and commercial markets is also fundamental and indispensable. These must be stabilised and better coordinated and controlled so as not to prove harmful to the very poor.”

Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes not divine, but demonic.”

To function correctly the economy needs ethics; and not just of any kind but one that is people-centred.

We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones.”

The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence.”