Pope Benedict Takes an Early Retirement—Can Popes Do That?

As fellow journalists and religion-watchers, we have some sympathy for the National Catholic Reporter this morning, as they remind their readers that yes, the pope is resigning, but hey, “there’s a bunch more news out there.”

Dennis Coday’s Morning Briefing does indeed point to some big stories about the US Bishops and the HHS mandate, about the LCWR-Bishop dialogue on Ash Wednesday, and more on Cardinal Mahony’s creative accounting strategies—but news of the pontiff’s statement that his strengths are “no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry” does somewhat engulf the Catholic beat.

This is not the first time a pope has resigned—it’s not entirely unprecedented. But most recent instance is six hundred years ago. And when Gregory XII resigned in 1415 he was actually one of three competing popes.

The oddest part, and the trickiest, is that popes are not usually around while Cardinals elect their successor, something that will happen in the next “10 to 15 days,” according to a Vatican spokesperson.

As they say, more news as it comes.

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Evan Derkacz and Lisa Webster have been co-editing Religion Dispatches since the site launched in 2008. They are still speaking to each other.