In an unexpected announcement, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28 due to health reasons. The announcement is seen by many as a break with tradition. RFE/RL's Deana Kjuka spoke to Gerard O'Connell, a Rome-based author and journalist specializing in Vatican affairs.
RFE/RL: What do you make of the speculation surrounding this announcement and what will Pope Benedict's resignation mean for his successors?
Gerard O'Connell: The bar is very high for popes who will follow because he is saying that if a man doesn't have the physical or mental strength to do the job, that it is appropriate that he resigns. It has always been a possibility with Benedict XVI that he would resign because he has spoken about the possibility of a pope resigning many times.
RFE/RL: Pope Benedict’s resignation is unprecedented in the modern era. What will be the impact of his resignation?
O'Connell: His decision is a [historic] decision. No pope in modern times has resigned. Everyone has died in office. But he is a pope whose mind is very clear, still physically able, but he came to a very conscious decision. He weighed the task of the job that he has and he weighed his own mental, physical resources to do that task and he came to a very rational conclusion that "I am no longer up to this task."
RFE/RL: What will Pope Benedict be known for? What has been his legacy?
O’Connell: Well, he stands out as a teacher of the Christian faith. He is the only pope to have ever written the biography of Jesus and he really has excelled as a professor by profession, before he became a bishop, before he became a cardinal, before he became a pope. And he continued being a scholar and teacher of the faith. And also he will be remembered as a man of virtue and kindness.
RFE/RL: While there are no official candidates, there are several names being mentioned. Are there any front-runners at this point?
O’Connell: Well, it is very difficult to say where the next pope will come from. I think we have some Italian candidate, [and] there is one from North America. There could be one or two from South America. It is very difficult to predict right now.
RFE/RL: What has been the reaction to the pope's resignation?
O’Connell: I mean, the whole church has been surprised. I think maybe one or two people knew. Presumably he told one or two people, but last year we had a year of leaks of all kinds from the Vatican. This year, this has been the best-kept secret in this pontificate.