“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,” he said in a statement the Vatican released.
A papal conclave elected Benedict, 85, in 2005 to succeed Pope John Paul II. He is the first pope to step down from the papacy since Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415.
Gay Catholics and others have repeatedly criticized the pontiff for his statements against nuptials for gays and lesbians — including his description of same-sex marriage as “a manipulation of nature” during his annual Christmas message in December. He also described global efforts to allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot as a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity itself” during his 2012 ‘State of the World’ address.
Benedict, who was previously known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, also enforced the Vatican’s moral doctrine before his election to the papacy.
He wrote in a 1986 letter that gay men and lesbians are “intrinsically disordered.” Benedict also said in the same document that gay organizations could no longer use church property.
The Vatican’s ongoing opposition to condom use as a way to stop the spread HIV/AIDS has also sparked outrage among advocates.
“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,” the pope said. “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 bark 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.”
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan applauded Benedict’s legacy.
“Pope Benedict often cited the significance of eternal truths and he warned of a dictatorship of relativism,” he said shortly after the Vatican released the pope’s resignation letter. “Some values, such as human life, stand out above all others, he taught again and again. It is a message for eternity.”
LGBT Catholics respond to papal resignation
Marianne Duddy-Burke, president of Dignity USA, a group comprised of LGBT Catholics, is among those who said they hope Benedict’s successor will temper the Vatican’s opposition to homosexuality and reach out to the gay faithful.
“We commend Benedict for stepping down for the benefit of the church and I think now’s the time to look ahead,” she told the Washington Blade from Boston. “We would obviously be looking for a pope who is committed to ending the dehumanizing attacks on LGBT people and our families that have been the hallmarks of the last 25-plus years. We would call for our new pope to enter into a real dialogue with our community.”
Bob Miailovich, treasurer of Dignity Washington, agreed.
“He is the leader of the church,” Bob Miailovich, treasurer of Dignity Washington, added. He and other LGBT Catholics held signs along Rock Creek Parkway in 2009 as Benedict’s motorcade drove from the White House to the Vatican embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington during his visit to the United States. “We disagree, but there’s still a respect. His opinion matters and we’d like for it to change because his opinion would have great effect on society.”
Former D.C. resident Phil Attey and other LGBT Catholics and advocates remain fearful, however, Benedict’s successor will be even more anti-gay than he.
“What it means to me is that the most hateful and mean spirited pope in the history of the Catholic Church is so determined to continue his reign of terror beyond his life on earth,” Attey said. “He’s going to orchestrate his succession, ensuring the next pope carries on his mission to demonize, marginalize and oppress every gay man who comes out of the closet and demands to be treated as equals among God’s children.”
Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a tweet earlier on Monday he hopes the cardinals elect a new pope “who will reform the Catholic Church, accept women priests and defend [the] dignity and rights of LGBT people.”
“Whatever comes of this, I only pray that our next pope will guide the church back to the original role of educating, helping the poor and needy and practicing the faith as intended and stop getting involved in so many political and social issues,” D.C. resident Rich Lewis added. “God is love and all Who Live in God, live in love. [I] pray that they get back to that message.”