Benedict XVI resigns, leaving Catholics across the world shocked - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 11 February

Benedict XVI resigns, leaving Catholics across the world shocked

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 11 February

By Darren Evans

The world has been shocked by the surprise announcement this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of this month. A Vatican spokesman confirmed that the 85-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church will step down on 28 February.

It is extremely rare for a pope to resign; it has only happened a handful of times in the Church's history. The last pope to step down was Gregory XII in 1415.

The Pope's predecessor, John Paul II, stayed in post until he died aged 84 in 2005. But in a statement the Pope said he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church because of his "advanced age".

"In today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith...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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me," he said.

The pontiff thanked his supporters and asked them to pardon his "defects".

He promised to devotedly serve the church in future through a life dedicated to prayer.

According to bookmakers, the favourite to take over the job is Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, followed by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, either of whom would become the first black pope.

Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, became the 265th pope and leader of more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide in April 2005 after the death of John Paul II.

Like his predecessor he has been a conservative leader, defending traditional Catholic values and criticising the growing secularism of many countries.

Born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1927, Ratzinger decided he wanted to become a senior priest at a young age. He was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, the young people's wing of the ruling Nazi party, at the age of 14, and was drafted into the German army at the age of 18 in the dying days of the Second World War.

He deserted and was briefly a prisoner of war of the American army. He went on to have a distinguished career as a university theologian before being appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977. Shortly afterwards he was made a cardinal, and went on to hold a number of senior posts in the church, rising to become one of its most powerful figures.

As Pope he revived a number of the Catholic Church's traditions and focused on the importance of prayer. He was praised for opening up dialogue with other faiths, but was criticised for his handling of sexual abuse within the Church.

A Vatican spokesman has denied there were any problems in the Papacy and said that a new Pope is expected to be elected by the end of March.

Questions for your class

  • What do you think of Pope Benedict's decision to resign on account of what he calls his 'advanced age'? Should age be a barrier to continuing work?
  • The Catholic Church has around one billion followers. What positive things would you try to do if you were made Pope for a day?
  • Why have the Church's stances on homosexuality, sexual abuse and the role of women been deemed controversial?
  • Do you think the Church should adapt for the 21st Century? How might it do this?

Related resources

Name that Pope: Game and PowerPoint presentation

  • Teach your pupils about some notable popes throughout history with this exclusive TES resource.

Pope for a Day

  • A lesson from Caford in which young people explore how it feels to be leader of a billion Catholics world-wide, as well as some of the challenges faced by members of the global church.

How a Pope is elected

  • This PowerPoint explains process of electing a new Pope. It covers the role of the Pope, the Vatican City and includes details on the last four people to be elected the Pope.

The Catholic Church

  • Lessons plans and activities to help pupils find out about the role of the Catholic Church, its history, hierarchy and places of worship.

Vatican City

  • Take a tour around the world’s smallest country and the home of the Catholic Church with this video resource.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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It's official. The skeleton under a car park in Leicester, England, is indeed that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.

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In the news archive index