After almost eight years as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Monday, Feb. 11, making him the first pope in 600 years to resign, according to The Guardian.
The reasons given for his resignation, which will go into effect Feb. 28, are declining health and old age. His resignation left the international Catholic community asking what this means for the church.
President of Newman Club junior Emily Nield described her reaction to the pope’s resignation as surreal.
“I didn’t know that could happen, because it hasn’t happened in 600 years and it just kind of came out of the blue, but if he feels that’s what he has to do, I respect that,” she said. “It’s a little exciting. It could be an opportunity for change for better or for worse.”
Nield had been in Catholic school when Benedict XVI assumed office and therefore allowed to watch the ceremony on television rather than doing schoolwork. She described the day Benedict XVI was selected as pope as “like election day,” with an energetic and exciting atmosphere.
She described Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI’s predecessor, as very beloved, a modern-day icon and boasting “celebrity status.” She felt that the world at large was “less emotionally attached” to Benedict XVI than they had been to John Paul II.
Junior Emily Themer, who attended Catholic school for 14 years but no longer identifies as Catholic, finds this resignation to be a positive thing for the Catholic Church.
“Initially I was surprised. After I thought about it more, I kind of liked that it happened. It made [the pope] seem more human.”
Growing up Catholic, Themer thought of the pope as “an almost God-like figure.” She said papal infallibility seemed strange to her, and she was glad to see the pope in a new light. She also hopes for a pope that will be “more current” than Benedict XVI, and that this resignation will open the path for change in the church.
Knox students are waiting to find out what will be next for the Catholic Church. The next pope will be chosen in accordance to the church’s long-standing traditions. “Interregnum,” which is the time in between a pope’s death (or the very rare case of his resignation) and the selection of his successor, will begin on Feb. 28.
On March 1, a conclave of the College of Cardinals will gather and elect the next pope. Any cardinal younger than 80 is eligible to vote. Currently there are 118 who meet this prerequisite. These cardinals are then sequestered in Vatican City, where they vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon on the future leader of the Catholic Church. They burn their ballots after each vote, and the color of the smoke is how they alert the public that they have reached a two-thirds majority, thus successfully electing the new pope. If the smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel is black, there is no consensus. If the smoke is white, a new pope has been chosen.