Pope Benedict XVI, who took office in 2005, announced on Monday that he will resign on Feb. 28, the first pope to leave the papacy since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. The 85-year-old pontiff is in poor health and has been advised by doctors “not to take any more transatlantic trips.” Reports indicate that “he has considered stepping down for months.”
“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 issued by the Vatican.
Pope Benedict is regarded as a conservative theologian who has asserted that Catholicism is the “true” religion that is in competition with Islam, has repeatedly spoken out against same-sex relationships, and “restated the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests.” During his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican, the pontiff called same-sex marriage a “manipulation of nature” to be deplored and an attack on the “essence of the human creature.” He claimed that attempts to pass marriage equality “harm and help to destabilize marriage” and present “serious harm to justice and peace.”
Still, at times, the pontiff has relied on Catholic teaching to advance progressive causes:
— Addressing climate change. Benedict was dubbed the “Green Pope” for his commitment to environmental concerns. He boosted “efforts to make Vatican City more environmentally efficient,” used “Roman Catholic doctrine to emphasize humanity’s responsibility to care for the planet,” and called on world leaders to “agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations.”
— A fair and equitable economy. “[T]he economy cannot be measured only by maximization of profit but rather according to the common good,” he said in 2011 during a visit to Spain. In a 2009 treatise, the pontiff called for protections for “labour unions — which have always been encouraged and supported by the Church,” the elimination of world hunger through “wealth redistribution,” the protection of the “natural environment” — “God’s gift to everyone” — from unchecked economic expansion, and a strengthened “family of nations,” like the U.N. with “real teeth.”
— Universal health care. At an international papal conference on health care in November of 2010, at the Vatican, Pope Benedict and other Catholic church leaders said it is the “moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.” Saying access to adequate medical care is one of the “inalienable rights” of man, the pope said, “Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions.” Catholic bishops, however, led the charge against Obamacare’s contraception requirements and have rejected the Obama administration’s latest compromise.
— Immigration reform. Pope Benedict had been a supporter of U.S. immigrants, regardless of their legal status, urging the Bush administration to treat immigrants with human dignity. The United States must do “everything possible to fight…all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives,” the pope said when asked if he would address the issue of Latin American immigrants with Bush in 2008.
In 2010, as the Catholic Church sought to deal with widespread allegations of child abuse, Pope Benedict found himself in the “center of a mounting scandal.” After reports surfaced that he may have avoided disciplining guilty priests as a Cardinal, some critics called for his resignation.