As has been widely reported, the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, is set to resign at the end of the month, citing weakening health. Sources include a statement from His Holiness, various higher-ups in the church, and the Pope’s brother in Germany. Apparently he had been feeling weakness for some months, and the stresses of the job have become overwhelming. As noted, this is the first time a pope as resigned willingly in centuries, and the example cited of such as are interesting. For example, Clement V retired from the papacy after only five months (1294), which was due to him simply preferring his more solitary lifestyle. Gregory XII (1415), on the other hand, left the papacy as part of the deal to end the Great Schism when there was more than one pope and fears of war (and the end times) were high. Other popes that left office include Benedict IX (1048) who sold the position and became pope again, and John XVIII (1009) who allegedly died shortly after retiring. So you need to go back about a thousand years to see a possible example of a pope leaving for health reasons.
Part of the reason may well have been the stresses from the child abuse scandals which have been rocking the church for much of Benedict’s tenure, and there have been plenty of other flare-ups noted by Tom that are likely to have added to job significant strain. However, I think we all know the real reason he left the Holy See: he was so broken up over my review of his book (1, 2, 3). That is the power of my blog. Fear me!
Plans are to elect a new pope by the end of March in time for Easter (which is March 31 this year). I will be interested to see who will replace him, perhaps someone less conservative.
Oh, I know someone for the post: a life-long Catholic of the Dominican order who is recently not in a job: Thomas Brodie. Brodie for Pope! Yeah, it would be interesting for a Jesus mythicist to lead the church. Well, I’m sure stranger things have happened in Vatican City.