When Benedict visited Cuba in March 2012, he looked noticeably stronger than the stooped John Paul II had when he made the same trip in 1998 – when John Paul was just 78. But Benedict has been growing noticeably weaker in recent months. He no longer walks the 100 yards down the aisle at St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate Mass; instead, he rides on a wheeled platform. He appeared to nod off during Christmas Eve services. Doctors reportedly had told him that he should not make a trans-Atlantic trip to Brazil scheduled for July.
If age alone were not debilitating enough, Benedict XVI’s time in charge has included the stress of dealing with the church’s global sexual abuse crisis, which at one point even threatened to taint Benedict’s brother, who was accused of non-sexual abuse of children at a time when the sexual abuse scandal was rocking Germany.
The scandals led German Cardinal Meisner earlier this month to talk about the prevailing mood of “Catholiphobia” in Germany and in much of Europe.
Unlike his plans before he accepted “canonical election as Supreme Pontiff,” Benedict won’t be returning to Regensburg. Instead, he’ll retire to a Vatican monastery, after a brief stay in Castel Gandolfo, officially the papal summer home, while his new quarters are readied.
Michael Klonovsky, a German author and Catholic, noted that the nature of the pope’s departure – meaning, alive – will lead to “critical voices concerning his resignation, some will say a reactionary pope failed, but maybe he just became a victim of inner-Vatican intrigues?”
Still, many Germans remember proudly his election, a moment that inspired the tabloid headline “We are Pope.”
“He is an intellectual, so he must be looking forward to going back to his writing and publishing,” Klonovsky noted. “He will be criticized for retiring, as a pope is supposed to die in the chair. But to resign is a more worldly thing to do – it shows a connection to the real world.
“And his brother must be happy. Benedict XVI always had to work on Christmas.”