Center for Electoral Forensics

Pope Benedict Resigns

[Flag of the Vatican]Being the only elected absolute monarch in current existence, the Pope has no electoral concerns. Once elected, the Pope reigns until death or resignation. The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII (Papa Gregorius Duodecimus), in 1415. Thus, the Papacy is seen as a lifetime appointment. Breaking with this tradition, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation today. Thus, the 265th Pope will step down at the end of this month and a new Pope will be elected in March.

How will the 266th Pope be elected?

[the Pieta]

The Pieta, by Michelangelo

The Pope is the only elective absolute monarchy existing. While he is the head of the Roman Catholic Church (the Holy See), he is also the monarch of the State of the Vatican City, which is a 110-acre enclave in Rome, Italy. The Holy See has existed since early Christianity. The Vatican City has existed only since 1929, when Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaties.

When the Papacy becomes vacant, the Particular Congregation calls the Papal Conclave. The Particular Congregation is a body of four persons, the Cardinal Camerlengo and three Cardinal Assistants. This body is responsible for preparing for the Papal Conclave, for running the Vatican City, and for burying the previous Pope.

The Papal Conclave elects the next Pope. The Conclave is composed of the College of Cardinals — all Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church under the age of 80. This body meets in the Sistine Chapel to cast ballots. The person must receive two-thirds plus one of the votes cast to be elected Pope.

While it is bad form to campaign for the Papacy, it is rare that the next Pope is a complete surprise, and one can construct a short list of papabili. My guess as to the next Pope? He will either be a young European or an old non-European. There are hints that the Vatican will look outside Europe for the next Pope, but there is still a traditional element pervading the College of Cardinals. Thus, if they do go outside Europe, it will be for a short-timer.

The next Pope will also be thin.

A translation of his resignation is as follows:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

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