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Surprise resignation ignites conspiracy theories

By Leah Coffman
On March 8, 2013


When now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation last month, it shocked the spiritual world to its core. Pontiffs traditionally rule the Catholic Church until death, with only four resignations in over 1,000 years of the papacy.

According to the Examiner, the last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1414, also amid political turmoil within the church. During the Great Schism, multiple popes ruled over a divided church. Only two other popes have resigned in the history of the papacy, in 1045 and 1294.

While there is no great divide in the church, there is still a great deal of political turmoil and scandal that could have prompted the unprecedented resignation. Vatican secrets have been leaked and questions still plague the church regarding the abuse children by the clergy. These scandals have been touted as a possible reason for the surprise resignation.

However, the aging former pope has also struggled with health problems. The Vatican released a statement mentioning a possible head injury, a significant health risk for an 85-year-old man. While age and infirmity could certainly prompt retirement in normal circumstances, nearly all previous popes have died in office as lifelong leaders of the church.

The surprise resignation has also prompted conspiracy theorists and prophecy scholars to examine the twelfth century writings of St. Malachy, which lists the subsequent 900 years of the papacy, ending with Benedict's successor who, according to the prophetic writings, will be called Peter the Roman. He will then usher in the end of days and the return of Jesus Christ.

Conspiracy theories have also been prompted from reports of lightning strikes and earthquakes, first at the Vatican after the announcement and now at Castel Gandolfo. However, such speculation is unnecessary and distracting from the current climate of uncertainty and scandals.

With Pope Benedict now in retirement, the focus has shifted to who the conclave of the cardinals will elect as their new spiritual leader. Dr. Peter Jauhiainen, professor of Religious Studies, remarked, "I wonder if they will make a bold move and elect a pope from the developing world such as Africa or South America. It will be refreshing if they do choose this route." Cardinals being touted for the role include Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Italy.

Whoever is chosen, it should be hoped and prayed that the religious leader will be able to balance the spiritual, political and personal realms. 

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