Monday, February 11, 2013

A signal from above? Lightning hits St Peter's hours after Pope Benedict stuns cardinals with first resignation in 600 years .

A sign from God? Lighting strikes the basilica of St.Peter's dome earlier this evening during a storm that struck Rome on the same day Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation
Shock decision: Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation during a meeting of Vatican cardinals today
The decision is unprecedented. He is the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and no Pontiff in history has stepped down on health grounds.
Ailing: The 85-year-old Pontiff said his strength was 'no longer adequate to continue in office due to his age'
Complete surprise: Several cardinals did not even understand what Benedict had said during the consistory and those who did were stunned, a Vatican spokesman said
Pope Gregory XII was the last pope to resign, standing down in 1415.
His resignation ended the Western Schism - a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417 which saw two rival popes claiming to be in office: one based in Avignon, France; the other in Rome.
The dilemma of papal allegiance arose following the death of Gregory XI, an Avignon Pope, in 1378.
When the College of Cardinals met to vote for a new pope, a Roman mob broke into the voting chamber and forced the election of an Italian pope - Urban VI.
Unhappy with being cornered, some cardinals returned to Avignon where they elected Clement VII as the pope.
This forced followers in Europe to choose loyalty towards either Avignon or Rome.
Until 1409, there were two popes simultaneously, although the Avignon Popes (Clement VII and then Benedict XIII) were seen as antipopes - in other words, those in opposition to the one generally viewed as the legitimate pope.
The Roman popes were Urban VI, Boniface IX, Innocent VII and Gregory XII.
Cardinals allied to Gregory XII and Benedict XIII decided to try and resolve the situation by getting the pope and antipope to meet and make an agreement. 
However, at the last minute they pulled out and it was decided at a church council in Pisa that they would elect another pope - Alexander V.
He died in 1410 shortly after being elected and was succeeded by John XXIII.
To resolve the situation the Council of Constance managed to get Pope Gregory and Antipope John to resign so a new election could take place.
As he refused to step down, Avignon Pope Benedict XIII was excommunicated and his successor, Antipope Clement VIII resigned in 1429 in recognition of the Roman Pope Martin V's legitimacy to the papal throne.
The only others to resign are Marcellinus, who abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor's order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods; Benedict IX, who sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045; and Celestine V, who stepped down after five months as pope in 1294.
Although officials said there had been no pressure for Benedict to resign, the internet is already awash with speculation that there was a more sinister reason behind his decision.
Speaking in one of the Vatican's state rooms, the Pope today told cardinals: 'After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, 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.
'I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering. 
'However, 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 barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary - strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.' 
Benedict, who at 78 became the oldest Pope in 300 years when he was elected in 2005, said he was making the decision in 'full freedom' but was 'fully aware of the gravity of this gesture'.
Several cardinals did not even understand what Benedict had said during the consistory, said the Reverend Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
Others who did were stunned.
A cardinal who was at the meeting said: ‘We listened with a sense of incredulity as His Holiness told us of his decision to step down from the church that he so loves.’
In a hastily arranged and, at times, shambolic press conference this morning, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: 'It’s taken us a bit by surprise. We’ve had to organise ourselves very quickly.
‘We’ve had no warning of what the Pope was about to announce. The declaration is crystal clear and we need to go through it word by word.
‘The Pope says that he looked in a personal way and had a deep moment of reflection to consider the mission that he had received from God.’
A Vatican spokesman said he will officially stand down at 8pm Rome time (7pm GMT) on February 28.
The Pontiff, who was known as 'God's rottweiler' because of his stern stand on theological issues, will then retire to the Pope's summer residence near Rome before returning to the Vatican to spend the rest of his life in cloistered accommodation.
As he begins his retirement, cardinals in Rome will begin the process of choosing a successor.
Although the Pope's announcement this morning came as a huge shock to his colleagues, there have been rumours about his health over the last few years.
The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, but in recent years, the Pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. 
He now goes to and from the altar in St Peter's Basilica on a moving platform, to spare him the long walk down the aisle. 
Benedict has acknowledged having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, but he later made a full recovery. 
In 2009, the Pope fell and suffered minor injuries when he broke one of his wrists while vacationing in the Alps. 
A doctor familiar with the pope's medical team said the Pontiff has no grave or life-threatening illnesses. 
But the doctor said, like many men his age, the Pope has suffered some prostate problems. 
Beyond that, the Pope is simply old and tired, the doctor said on condition of anonymity. 
The Pope, who also uses a walking cane, is also understood to be suffering from a degenerative joint disease.
Sense of incredilty: Pope Benedict XVI attends a consistory with cardinals, who were shocked by the decision
Elderly: Benedict became the oldest Pope in 300 years when he was elected in 2005 at the age of 78



Aware of gravity of announcement: Pope Benedict said he had repeatedly examined his conscience before God
Highly unusual move: The Pope is the first to stand down in the last 600 years
In November 2011, Andrea Tornielli – a well-placed reporter from the Vatican Insider, a project run by La Stampa newspaper in Italy – said Pope Benedict found it agonising to walk even short distances due to 'arthrosis', thought to be an Italian term for osteoarthritis, in his knees, hips and ankles. 
The condition forced him to pull out of a trip to Brazil in July.
Mr Tornielli said this was why the Pope began using a moving platform to address crowds during mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
There have also been reports that the Pope was struggling to read texts.

Dr Alan Silman, the medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said Pope Benedict most likely has osteoarthritis, which causes people to lose the cartilage at the end of their joints, making it difficult to move around without pain.

He said: 'It would be painful for him to kneel while he's praying and could be excruciating when he tries to get up again.'
Affection: Pope Benedict XVI embraces Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, after the pontiff announced his retirement
Saying his farewells: The Pontiff embraces Cardinal Angelo Sodano after the consistory