No clear front-runner for new Pope

There is no clear front-runner among the various contenders to occupy the papacy once the current occupant of the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI, leaves on February 28 at 8 pm local time in Rome. Generally, candidates are chosen from among the College of Cardinals. One of these is Cardinal Archbishop Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. If elected, Cardinal Turkson would be the first known black African to occupy the chair once held by St Peter himself.

Pope Benedict XVI announced on February 11 that he will step down at the end of the month, being the first to do so in nearly 600 years. A conclave of cardinals would then have to elect a new leader of the worldwide Church before the end of March. A Vatican said that the interval between resignation and election will be "as brief as possible". The pontiff announced his decision in Latin during a consistory of cardinals while emphasising that his duties require “both strength of mind and body”. His brother, Rev. Georg Ratzinger, told the German press that the Pope had been considering the move for several months, due to declining health.

In his statement, translated from the original Latin, the Pope said “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,” adding, “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.”

 

(Cardinal Turkson)
 
The Pope also said that a world that is “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 St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary -- strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me”.
 
French President François Hollande called the decision “highly respectable”.  Other reaction included that from Damian Thompson, writing for the Times of London, of the "unbelievable" decision. Nonetheless, wrote Thompson, the act can be seen as "above all as an act of self-sacrifice by a man not prepared to see the Church suffer as a result of his increasing frailty."  
 
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the so-called Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants. A previous pontiff, Pope Celestine, stepped down in the early 1200s.
 
Benedict said he made “a decision of great importance for the life of the Church”.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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