Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world Monday by announcing he is resigning from the papacy on February 28. The 85-year-old Church leader, who said he is not in the physical condition required to continue in the position, is the first pope to resign since 1415.
Benedict was elected to the papacy in 2005 following the death of John Paul II, who was pope for 27 years. John Paul died at age 84, and was extremely sick in the last years of his life. The current pope said "both strength of mind and body" are required to serve in the position, and he has deteriorated in such a way he recognizes his "incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to him:"
"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."
The College of Cardinals will meet in March to begin the process of electing a new pope to lead the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church. There are no front runners for his successor, although the names of several Italian cardinals are circulating as potential candidates: Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa; and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Rome.
The eligible voting cardinals—those under age 80—will arrive in Rome to enter conclave to elect the new pope. There have been increasing calls for the Church to select a candidate from outside Europe, as there's never been a pope from outside the continent. Some say the next pope should come from Europe precisely because the ranks of the Church there are shrinking, but others say the next leader should come from the third world, where the religion still dominates.
Latin America, where the majority of the population is Catholic, makes up 40 percent of the world's Catholics. Names of cardinals from Argentina and Brazil have been floated as possible successors. The number of Catholics is growing in Africa, and names of candidates from Nigeria and Ghana have too been mentioned.
From North America, Archbishop of Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet is considered a possibility. American Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has also been mentioned, but a pope from such a powerful country is unlikely.
It is suspected that whoever is selected to succeed the pope will maintain his strict conservative policies on gays in the church, the ordination of women, and divorce.
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