Today, to the shock of the entire world, Pope Benedict XVI announced he will be resigning at 8 PM Vatican time on February 28, 2013. As with the rest of the world, our family was stunned by the news. This is historic for Catholics. In the past 1,000 years of Church history, only 4 other Popes have resigned. Most recently was Pope Gregory XII in 1415 who sought to reunify the Church after the Western Schism. To reunify the Church, he took the opportunity to revamp the process of choosing a Pope and following his resignation, the first conclave as we now know it convened to elect his successor and end the Schism. Prior to that, Pope Celestine V and a Pope who never wanted to be elected was the first Pope to declare that Popes could resign and after only 5 months in the Seat of Peter he did so himself, returning to his life as a Benedictine hermit in 1294.
While the next Papacy will begin with something we have never seen in our lifetime, the process of choosing a Pope by conclave will still occur although the timeline and events leading up to the conclave are still in question. We are expected to have a new Pope by the beginning of Holy Week based on all current accounts.
Most children in our families will not remember the election of Pope Benedict XVI if they are under the age of 13. Those under 18 would have been 10 and under at the time and likely won't remember it clearly at all. Lots of questions began to fly in our home this morning as I struggled to wrap my brain around the Holy Father's decision and I decided we could all use a little help in explaining this to our families.
The folks over at Busted Halo made this fabulous video explaining how a Pope is elected. This is the most concise version of the truth I have found that doesn't include some vast mystery novel.
For more on how the Pope is elected, there is an excellent series of "the way things usually go" on EWTN about what is formally called the Papal Interregnum or the period "between the reign" of two Popes.
As more information becomes available I will do my very best to bring it to you in everyday terms we can all understand and from resources that are accurate, reliable, and the truth of the Faith.
Special thanks to my friend Wendy who found the video by Busted Halo. I just heard their radio show for the first time today and while not a long time listener, I am now officially a fan! ;)