In a period of crisis and decline of capitalism, to many people religion is the one certainty to cling on to. But if the Pope himself is no longer convinced he can keep his position until his death, this illusion of solidity begins to break down. The effect of the surprise announcement of his retirement by Pope Benedict XVI on the consciousness of over a billion Roman Catholics is going to be that of a spiritual earthquake, and it is surely going to have political consequences too.
The last time a Pope abdicated his position before Benedict XVI was in 1415, when Gregory XII retired with the purpose of recomposing the Western Schism, a forty-year long split between the Church of Rome and the Church of Avignon. The papal spokesman himself has ruled out serious health issues behind the 2013 abdication. It seems that this pontiff’s resignation is also based on a profound split within the Catholic Church and particularly within the Roman Curia, i.e. the government of the Church and the administrative apparatus of its miniature theocracy.