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Benedict XVI advanced Vatican by resigning as pope

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"Sensation" was not strong enough to convey the import of Pope Benedict XVI 's announcement on Rose Monday five years ago that he would resign. It was a deep shock — a break with the past. German media assured their audiences that the 85-year-old pope's retirement was not a Carnival joke.

By resigning, Benedict, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria, restored the papacy's humanity. His predecessor, John Paul II, who died in office, had declared that a pope did not resign, whispering just weeks before his death to his long-serving secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz — whom Benedict would elevate to cardinal — that "one does not descend from the cross."

DW's Christoph Strack

Of course,for faithful Christians, it is not the pope, but a far more important figure who hangs from the cross. Benedict made a different decision than his predecessor had and in doing so brought the papacy back down to earth.

"If a pope comes to the clear realization that he can no longer physically, mentally and spiritually accomplish the mission of his ministry, then he has a right — and possibly also a duty — to resign," Benedict had said in an interview in 2010. Only a theologian of Benedict's stature could have resigned with such confidence.

'The homeward pilgrimage'

Five years later, church lawyers still have many unanswered questions about Benedict's resignation. How do you address a resigned pope? (The term "emeritus pope" — papa emerito — is not widely accepted.) What should he wear in public? Should he wear papal white? Or the red worn by cardinals? And what about his place of residence? In Benedict's case, with his monastic life in the Vatican gardens, this question has been resolved, although not formalized. No ecclesiastical law would prohibit a secluded old........

© Deutsche Welle