Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he is to step down at the end of February because of his frail health.
Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Rome correspondent Megan Williams about reaction to the surprise announcement.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. It was not announced on his Twitter feed. No, Pope Benedict the XVI announced his decision to resign during a meeting of cardinals today at the Vatican. Speaking in Latin, the 85-year-old said that carrying out the Papal duties requires both strength of mind and body, and that he is stepping down at the end of February because of his frail health. Reporter Megan Williams is in Rome. So now that the news has sunk in, Megan, what’s been the reaction there in Rome, in the Vatican?
Megan Williams: Well, it’s been complete and utter shock. Not so much because the pope resigning was considered outside the realm of possibility, because it wasn’t. I mean he had told very clearly in 2012 a German journalist that if he felt he was no longer up to the task for health reasons he would consider resigning. The timing of it has left very brief window in which to get organized for the closed secret reelection of the next pope, so there’s a lot to do in a very brief window of time. And of course, all of the back room politicking is going to start with a vengeance soon.
Werman: How is the dynamic gonna change with the pope still alive in a conclave trying to figure out who the next person is gonna be?
Williams: It was interesting being at the Vatican this morning because all of the Vatican experts were down there and they were all you know, trying to figure out what it’s going to look like in the next month. It’s not unprecedented because it has happened centuries ago, but it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
Williams: The conclave has always preceded by a funeral and the person is gone. Now, Pope Benedict is going to go to a Castel Gandolfo, which is a castle just outside of Rome, and then after that he says he will retire into what was a cloistered convent inside Vatican City, which is not very far from St. Peter’s Square and of course, not very far from the office that he now occupies. So he’s not going to be far from the center of power and how that will play out, who knows. I’m sure he’s going to continue writing. He’s a great intellectual, so I can’t imagine that he will remain completely silent.
Werman: Now, for the Vatican right now I guess there’s never a good time I suppose for an announcement like this, but what is the state of things at the Vatican?
Williams: I think again, talking with Vatican experts and having read his interview, what he said during that interview is that he would not step down in a time of danger for the church. And danger can be interpreted in many different ways, but certainly the Vati leak scandal was not a good time for the church. All of the terrible anguish over the sex abuse cases with pedophile priests, that would not have been a good time for him to resign. He likely chose a time when there wasn’t too much controversy.
Werman: And Megan, what about this announcement being kind of a game changer moment for the Catholic church. Any talk that it should now be a younger pope?
Williams: That’s what they said after Pope John Paul II, I was here for that conclave. Everybody expected oh, yes, let’s get an African pope or let’s get a South American pope, let’s get a younger man. You know, I think papal contenders, one comes from Africa, one is a Central American, one is Canadian, one is Italian. None of them are particularly young. And frankly, cardinals aren’t young, so I doubt that age will influence the decision that much. It hasn’t in the past.
Werman: Megan, we’ll leave it there, thank you.
Williams: Thank you.
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