The news that Pope Benedict XVI is to retire at the end of February has rocked the Roman Catholic Church. The position of Holy Father is generally one that is continued until death but the German-born 85-year-old Pope’s health has been failing in the last couple of years and he no longer feels he can fulfill the role.
The decision has clearly caught the Vatican on the hop with Angelo Sodano, the head of the influential Dean Of Cardinals, describing the announcement as a ‘ lightning bolt out of the clear blue sky’. Of course, the race is now on to find a replacement. In normal circumstances, front-runners would have several weeks to canvass votes and pull strings but Benedict XVI’s decision to spring this news on his closest advisers has really thrown the Papal cat among the St Peter’s Square pigeons and feathers are certain to fly. He’s the first Pontiff to resign for more than 600 years and scholars will be scouring Latin text books to find out what happens next. There will obviously have to be a swift election – but what is the protocol and timetable by which the church must move?
Paddy Power have been quick to move on what the next Pope will want to be known as. Since the end of the 19th century, there have been three Pope Pius, two Benedicts, two John Pauls, a John and a Paul. Pius is 5/1 on Paddy Power’s list but Peter is the current favourite at 4/1. Maybe by adopting the name of its first Pontiff, some feel the Church can get back to basics and put the controversies of recent years behind it.
There is no betting as yet on the nationality of the new Pope but there has been some speculation that a non-European could be elected for the first time. Latin America has 42 per cent of the world’s Catholic population and they will argue that it’s about time a cardinal from their region was given a go in the top job, though it’s unlikely he’ll be any younger than the usual candidates.