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Students, professor react to Pope Benedict’s plans to step down

By Christopher Hurley

Feb. 12, 2013 1:22 a.m.

The original headline accompanying this article was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information. 

Breaking from about 600 years of tradition, the leader of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will step down from his position at the end of the month, a move that surprised much of the world – including students and faculty at UCLA.

Benedict cited failing health as the reason for his departure from his post, which he has held for about eight years.

“In order to govern the bark of St. 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,” Benedict said in his official announcement, according to the New York Times.

Though it is rare, it is not unprecedented for a pope to step down.

His resignation will be the first voluntary abdication of the seat as head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics since the thirteenth century, according to Reuters.

The last abdication occurred in 1415, after a pope was politically forced to resign when there were multiple popes at once – an event  that is called the “Western Schism.”

But the voluntary nature of Pope Benedict XVI’s departure makes the transition much easier, said S. Scott Bartchy, a professor of history and religious studies at UCLA.

Bartchy and Benedict both taught at the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

“Even then he wasn’t a robust picture of health,” Bartchy said.

Benedict has said repeatedly that he never wanted to be Pope, which Bartchy said may have factored into the decision to resign.

For college-aged students, the next pope will be the third in their lifetime.

Some students said they agreed with the pope’s decision, considering he is physically unable to perform the duties of the office.

Kyra Manayan, a first-year business and economics student with some Catholic background, said she was shocked when she heard about the pope’s resignation because she was unaware that a pope could step down.

“The pope is a big deal so it’s good that he did resign if he doesn’t think he can handle it,” Manayan said.

Suzi Clark, a fourth-year environmental science student who was raised as a Catholic, said she understands and respects Benedict’s decision because his health may keep him from travelling, which is an important duty of the office.

The College of Cardinals, members who hold a high post in the church, will meet in Vatican City in March to elect the new pope. Candidates need a final two-thirds majority to be elected, and the Conclave may choose the next pope as soon as Easter, according to Reuters.

Many experts, including Bartchy, expect the next pope to come from the developing world, either Latin America or Africa, where the growth of Catholicism is highest, he said. Even when looking for a new pope in 2005, Bartchy said the College considered candidates from the developing world, such as Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

“I would be very surprised if (this time) they didn’t choose someone from south of the equator,” Bartchy said.

Despite the change of the guard at the Vatican, Ceci Gray, campus minister at the University Catholic Center, said it appears that most people inside the church do not fear disorder or chaos.

“I think the church will go on,” Gray said. “The church tends to go on – we’ve been through a lot of different things, and we will keep on going.”

Contributing reports by Sam Focht and Sam Hoff, Bruin contributors.

Clarification: The headline contained a typo.

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