Did sickness and scandal lead to Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement?

Tourists walk past pictures of Pope Benedict XVI displayed in a shop in Rome February 12, 2013.Pope Benedict stunned …It has only been a day since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation as the head of the Catholic Church, setting a modern day precedent. Catholics can be forgiven for remaining a little stunned at the sudden announcement.

In his official statement, Benedict cited his advanced age and inability to carry out the physical requirements of his duties as his reason for stepping down. The 85-year-old is one year older than his predecessor Pope John Paul II was when he died in 2005.

There is no indication that there was more to the story than an old man looking to spend his twilight in peace. He suggested months ago that he would consider stepping down if the physical toll became too much.

But slowly, as the shock wears away, questions rise to the surface.

[Related: Pope Benedict XVI to retire; will a Canadian replace him? ]

First, it appears Pope Benedict XVI may have been in worse shape that previously known. The Vatican told the Associated Press that he has long had a pacemaker and the machine’s battery was replaced in secret a few months ago.

His brother, meantime, told the BBC that a doctor had told the pontiff not to take any transatlantic trips due to health concerns.

Second, there are ghosts of controversies and scandals surrounding the Vatican, which Benedict’s resignation could help assuage.

Pope Set to Move to Monastery, Get New TitleA Vatican spokesperson says Pope Benedict XVI will be moving to a monastery on the grounds of the Vatican when he resigns. He'll also get a new title once his resignation takes effect on February 28th. (Feb. 12)

CNN reported that, while the most likely reasons for his resignation are benign, there were some more salacious rumours abound.

[ Related: How will the new pope be chosen? ]

CNN’s religion blog writes:

The child sex abuse scandal continued to plague the church globally even as strict reforms were put in place. ...

Inside the walled compound of the Vatican City, the Vatican Bank is being investigated for noncompliance with European money laundering protections. The head of the bank left in disgrace.

The pope saw his own butler betray him by stealing documents from his desk and passing them to journalists, and internal battles erupt over alleged mismanagement.

Paul Waldie of the Globe and Mail also outlines some of the sticky issues to be handed over to the next pope, including:

  • Lawsuits and anger over sex-abuse claims against priests in North America and Europe. Benedict was seen as a major obstacle moving forward.
  • Contraception and AIDS. Benedict condemned the use of condoms in AIDS-plagued Africa, later saying they were acceptable in some cases.
  • The issue of homosexuality. Benedict said gay marriage destroys “the essence of the human creature.”

Vatican City politics are not an easy thing for an octogenarian to negotiate at the best of times. Even a whiff of failing health would have made Pope Benedict XVI’s daily affairs hard to master.

We wish Benedict the best in his retirement, presumably to be spent on the beaches of Florida.