Steph Martin

Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has two teenage daughters.

Rome—Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, made a surprise announcement this week, saying he’ll step down February 28 because of his age. The 85-year-old Pope, who’s become increasingly frail, said he’s “had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Popes traditionally stay in office until they die. It’s been almost 600 years since a pope resigned. A Vatican spokesman said a replacement will be named by Easter.

Pope Benedict, who’s served since 2005, had to deal with the sexual-abuse scandal and leaks about alleged corruption within the Vatican.

Catholics worldwide expressed shock at the resignation, but many said it was a selfless, courageous decision. Vice-President Joe Biden, who’s Catholic, said Pope Benedict set “an incredibly high standard” by understanding his own limitations. “This is a man of great integrity [who’s] looking out for what he believes is in the best interest of our church,” Biden said.

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Church insiders agree the next pope will likely follow in Benedict’s conservative traditions. Some people hope the future leader comes from the developing world. Others long for someone who can relate to younger Christians. Kaleigh Forst of New York City said, “My grandparents think of the whole church a little bit differently than my generation does. I feel like we could use somebody maybe a little younger, [with] a new perspective.”

Because a papal resignation is so rare, experts are uncertain about the ex-pope’s title, role, and authority. But Pope Benedict indicated he’d be “hidden to the world” after leaving office.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, said the announcement feels somber and sad. “It’s like watching your own Dad get old and admit he’s not up to all the duties that being the head of a family involves.”

Sources: cnn.com, catholicregister.com, christianpost.com

Discussion Questions:

  • What was your reaction to the Pope’s announcement? Do you agree that it’s selfless? courageous? Explain. Does he have a responsibility to keep serving the church, despite his physical condition? Why or why not?
  • ow do you expect this decision to affect the Catholic Church? In what ways might it be harmful or difficult? In what ways might it lead to positive change?
  • Because of Pope Benedict’s age-related struggles, do you think cardinals will select younger popes from now on? Is it better to choose someone with experience, knowing he won’t be in office as long, or to have someone who can learn on the job and serve for decades? Explain.
  • Is it realistic to expect people to serve in such an important role until they die? Why or why not? What are some other long-term commitments that require stamina and perseverance? How can leaders stay humble despite their lofty positions?  
  • How do you know when it’s time to step away from a commitment, even when you haven’t fulfilled it entirely? Why is it so difficult to accept and admit our limitations? Is backing down a sign of weakness or strength? Explain.
  • What responsibilities do people have to care for their own bodies, despite prior commitments? Are we obligated to fulfill all our commitments, even if they put our health or well-being at risk? Explain.
  • How do you react when a task seems too difficult? What positions or roles do you think God has called—or is calling—you to, and why? What will enable you to fulfill those callings faithfully?
  • How can you learn from people who’ve come before you? And what can you do now to help the people who will take over from you someday?

Scripture links: Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Nehemiah 4:6-23; John 15:4-5; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; and 1 Peter 5:1-6.

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  • Chris Wesley says:

    As a Catholic I was shocked to hear the news; however, greatly respect the decision the Pope has made. It’s hard to say who the Cardinals will pick and this is where the Catholic church will have to trust God in the decision making. I’m praying that whoever they pick is someone who can engage Catholics through different mediums (i.e. social media) and isn’t afraid to uphold the Gospel and teachings of the church.

    Right now it feels like our church is functioning without a pastor.

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