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The pope resigns

Pope Benedict XVI caught the world by surprise when he announced his resignation as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

History shows us just how unusual a decision this actually is ... Benedict is joining a very small group of popes to outlive the job. The last pope resigned almost 600 years ago.

The infrequency with which resignations occur will link Pope Benedict’s decision with those that came before, but while the life and times inside and outside the church played significantly in the resignations of Benedict’s predecessors, it’s a different set of internal and external forces at play today.

“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,” Benedict said in a statement.

Today’s popes are considered direct successors to St. Peter.

That is understandable for the 85-year-old pontiff who is heading a church of more than 1 billion followers in the 21st century. He became pope at a time when the proponents of conservative and liberal theology were wrestling over the direction of the church and where child abuse scandals continued to be a crisis for the faithful.

Benedict came to the job with a reputation of being a conservative, in large part because of his role under Pope John Paul II as the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy expert. In this regard, he did not deviate from this thinking as he tried leading a return the church to a more traditional orthodoxy.

The modern world, however, has continued to interject itself. From the relationships between different faiths or the threat of climate change to the continued scourge of AIDS in Africa or the use of birth control, the pope found himself confronted with issues that required all of his strength and faith.

With an announced date of Feb. 28 for his resignation to take place, his legacy is not yet complete. Others will use this time to determine how well he did in leading the Roman Catholic Church.

But in making the remarkable decision to resign, this pope has shown true strength of character, putting the interests of his faith and church ahead of whatever the desire he might have to hang on to the power and perquisites of the office.

“I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering,” Benedict said.

“However, in today’s world … strength of both mind and body are necessary.”

This is something the college of cardinals should heed in picking Benedict’s successor.

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