Newsmax Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin discloses that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement came as a complete surprise even to those closest to him.
He also tells Newsmax there is a distinct possibility that the next Pope will not be from Europe, although an American pope is unlikely because it would not be “fitting” to choose a pontiff from a superpower.
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Pentin has provided coverage of the Vatican for Newsmax since 2008. He has also covered the Pope for publications including Newsweek, The Sunday Times, and the National Catholic Register, and has been a correspondent for Rome Reports, a television news agency, and the U.S. Catholic network, Relevant Radio.
Speaking to Newsmax TV from the Vatican, Pentin discusses the mood there following the Pope’s announcement that he is resigning at the end of February.
“People are really just letting it sink in. It obviously took everyone by surprise,” he says.
“Father Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said today at a press conference that even his closest aide didn’t know about this. He didn’t actually consult many people about this apparently. It was a very personal decision, according to Father Lombardi. So plenty of people in the Vatican were incredulous about the news, even those who were closest to him.”
Asked about the factors that led to the Pope’s decision, Pentin says:
“It’s in keeping with his character in many ways, because he’s a very humble man and he felt that he couldn’t really carry on doing it in the best way, that somebody else could do better.
“At 85, looking after a billion Catholics is a huge task, which even a younger person would find hard.
“There has also been signs over the last two to three years that the Pope has given that he was contemplating this. From the very beginning he said he felt becoming Pope was like having a guillotine come down upon him. He was always quite reluctant in a sense to take it on, which is a good sign because you don’t want someone in that position who lusts for power and influence.
“Over the course of the last few years he was asked a question: Would you ever consider resigning over the sexual abuse scandal? And he said no, that he had considered it but he wouldn’t because you shouldn’t resign when the times are hard and the church is facing great danger. So he didn’t feel that was the time to resign, but clearly he had been thinking about it.
“And then a couple of years ago he visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who was one of the only popes to resign [in 1294]. He actually laid his pallium on the tomb, which is a very important vestment for a bishop, and he laid it on the tomb and left it there. People said at the time that was quite an interesting gesture to make and started talking then whether he saw some sort of similarity with Pope Celestine V.”
Asked if there could be more to the Pope’s decision than initially indicated, Pentin responds: “Some people speculate that there’s something. They think there’s more behind the decision than they’re being told.
“Personally I don’t think that’s the case. The pope has thought about this hard. It’s something that’s been on his mind a lot. His brother has said that his age is weighing on him. He’s been saying the past few months that he’s becoming increasingly frail.
“A spokesman said he didn’t have any clear medical problem to speak of, so that’s not really a reason. It’s the frailty, the age factor that has made him make this decision.”
As for the influence Pope Benedict XVI might have in selecting the next pontiff, Pentin observes: “Well, he’s not going to be in the conclave. He’ll be sitting it out. So in that sense, he’ll have no influence on it at all. But during his pontificate he’s appointed cardinals into the College of Cardinals who will be voting for the next pope. So in that sense he has great influence on who will the next pope.”
Pentin says the selection of a Pope from somewhere other than Europe is “definitely a possibility. There’s been talk of an African pope for a while. There are quite a lot of people who would like to see the focus move away from Europe and the West and move to Africa or Asia.
“In Africa, you’ve got Cardinal Peter Turkson [of Ghana], who’s the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace here. He’s a senior Vatican official. You’ve got other cardinals like Cardinal [Malcolm] Ranjith, a Sri Lankan, who’s very respected.”
Pentin also mentioned American Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and former Archbishop of St. Louis.
“But they say an American cardinal is not so likely because America is the only superpower and it’s not really fitting to have the Pope also as an American,” Pentin says.
“But Cardinal Burke is also there as a top candidate. Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan [of New York], he’s also up there.
“Then you have probably Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet, who’s a Canadian cardinal who’s also very popular and considered a very spiritual man and having a lot of the attributes needed to be pope. So there are a lot of good candidates out there who could take over. I suspect that the reason behind this resignation being one of age, I suspect they will try to choose somebody quite a bit younger.”
The next pope will be chosen “probably I suspect around mid-March,” Pentin adds. “But it’s difficult to say because the voting can go on for a while. It depends how quickly they can decide who to choose. But certainly by the end of March, there should definitely be somebody enthroned as Pope.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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