By PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent
12 February 2013
The Vatican expects a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who surprised the world by announcing his resignation yesterday, to be elected before the end of next month.
Benedict (85) remains pope until 8pm on February 28th, when a period of interregnum or sede vacante (empty chair) will begin, during which the church will be administered by the “camerlengo” or chamberlain.
The Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will summon the 120 cardinals worldwide to Rome for a conclave to elect the next pope.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that if the election process followed the usual lines the new pope should be elected “within the space of a month” by the end of March. Pope Benedict will take no part in the conclave.
Cardinal Seán Brady echoed church and political leaders across the world when he said the news of the pope’s resignation had come as a “shock” to him.
He also reflected the warm understanding internationally of the pope’s decision.
“With typical humility, courage and love for the church he has clearly come to the view that the Lord now wants him to use his remaining physical and spiritual energies by serving the church in prayer. I think this is a profound act of humility, a conscientious and responsible decision to hand over the ministry of the successor of Saint Peter in a time of great challenge for the church and for faith in the modern world.”
Among names being spoken of as possible successors are two cardinals who were recently in Ireland.
Canadian Cardinal Marc Oullett, now prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome and former archbishop of Quebec, was papal legate at last year’s International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Honduran Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, currently Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, attended a theological conference at Maynooth last summer.
It is almost 600 years since a pope stood down. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, although some suggest that was a forced resignation.
The last pope known to have resigned voluntarily, as Benedict did yesterday, was Celestine V. He did 719 years ago in 1294.
Elected at the age of 80 he felt overwhelmed by the office and stood down. It earned him a place in Dante’s Inferno, where he is placed at the gates of Hell
In Rome yesterday morning, speaking in Latin to a meeting of cardinals at the Vatican, Pope Benedict said he had “come to the certainty” that his strengths “are no longer suited” to fulfilling the ministry of pope. “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,” he said.
At a news briefing later Fr Lombardi said almost no one had known of the pope’s intentions.
He understood that the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was informed a short time before the announcement. Aged 78 in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was the oldest man to be elected pope since Clement XII in 1730.