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AS IT IS

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Welcome to AS IT IS! … your daily magazine show from VOA Learning English.

I'm June Simms.

Today we look at the life and resignation of Pope Benedict the 16th.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church surprised people around the world this week when he announced plans to resign at the end of the month. It has been almost 600 years since the last pope resigned.

VOA Reporter Jack Payton will join us to talk about the pope's life.

But first, Christopher Cruise has more on Pope Benedict's resignation.

The religious leader surprised Roman Catholic officials when he announced his resignation at the Vatican on Monday. He said he was no longer strong enough to carry out his duties as head of the world's largest Christian group. The 85-year-old pope told Vatican officials that his health had worsened in recent months. He said he had to recognize what he called his "incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted" to him.

On Tuesday, the Vatican confirmed that Pope Benedict has had a pacemaker for years to help control his heartbeat.

Pope Benedict spoke to people gathered in St. Peter's Square last Sunday. He talked about "peace, harmony and gratitude to Heaven." Few people knew that this would be one of the last times he would speak publicly as pope.

Many people were shocked by the pope's resignation.

The head of the Anglican Church said he was of "heavy heart" after hearing the news. In South Africa, the Archbishop of Pretoria said the continent's Catholics would remember the pope fondly. And the Chief Rabbi of Israel said Pope Benedict had improved ties between Judaism and Christianity.

President Obama and his wife Michelle extended their thanks and prayers to the pope. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Pope Benedict remains one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time. I'm Christopher Cruise.

We are looking at the life and times of Pope Benedict the 16th on As It Is. I'm June Simms.

Pope Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in the German town of Passau. He grew up in Nazi, Germany when Adolf Hitler served as its ruler. His father was a police officer. Young Joseph joined the Hitler Youth organization in 1941 at a time when all German boys were required to do so. He said he left the group as World War Two was ending.

Joseph studied at a Catholic seminary after the war. He became a clergyman in 1951. He taught theology at several universities from 1959 to 1966. In 1977, he became a Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Munich.

In 1981, Pope John-Paul II named Cardinal Ratzinger the head of the Vatican office that enforces church theology and rules -- the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was 78 years old when he was chosen by his fellow cardinals to take the place of Pope John Paul. He was the first German pope in nearly a thousand years. And he was only the second non-Italian elected pope in more than 500 years. With his resignation, he becomes the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory 12th in 1415.

Joining us now…VOA Reporter Jack Payton.

Jack lived in Rome for many years and spent much of that time covering the Roman Catholic Church for various news organizations. Thanks for joining us, Jack.

Jack, how big of a surprise was the pope's announcement of his resignation?

This was a huge surprise. It came as a shock even to the pope's own inner circle. His own brother knew about it but very few other people did.

Yet there are some reports that suggest he had been planning this for a while.

Well, the pope gave an interview in 2010 in which he said that if a pope becomes infirmed or is unable to do his job he should consider stepping down. Well I think the pope took his own advice.

Jack, what do you think the legacy is that the pope is leaving behind?

Pope Benedict was a conservative theologically. He believed in conserving the old traditions of the church, as did his predecessor Pope John Paul II. And I think if there's a legacy there it's in that conservatism, but also in the makeup of the College of Cardinals. What's interesting here is that of the 118 cardinals who will be voting on the new pope, 67 of them were chosen by Pope Benedict. The others remaining were chosen by John Paul II. So between the two of them the entire College of Cardinals, the range is much more narrow than it used to be.

Now his conservative position created some controversy for him over the years.

Yes it has. I mean the church has maintained its stand on birth control. It shows no sign of allowing women to become priests. Of course, the Pope was also faced with a huge scandal during his pontific, and that is the sex scandals involving priests and young people. So his papacy is going to be remembered for traditionalism and it's going to be remembered for the scandal that he's had to deal with, among other things.

And how well do you think he handled that particular scandal?

It's been a very tough time for the church and a lot of people thought the church was too slow in recognizing the problem and dealing with the problem. Now it is, but lawsuits are piling up in countries around the world. And it's costing the church a lot of money to deal with this issue, in addition to the prestige and the standing that it's lost in the world.

How quickly will the cardinals be meeting to begin the process of electing a new pope?

Right now it appears that the cardinals will be meeting in conclave in the Sistine Chapel probably by mid-March and they hope to have a new pope in place certainly in time for the Easter observances.

Thank you so much for joining us Jack. Thank you.

Thank you for having me.

And you will be joining our very own Kelly Jean Kelly tomorrow for more on the possible candidates.

Pope Benedict will hold his final audience in St. Peter's Square on February 27th. His resignation will take effect one day later.

And that's AS IT IS for today. I'm June Simms in Washington.

Tune in again tomorrow as Kelly Jean Kelly returns with Jack Payton to look at what lies ahead for the papacy.

And remember, we want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, as it is. Send us an email special@voanews.com. Or go our website at voaspecialenglish.com and click on "Contact Us."

And that's AS IT IS for today. I'm Faith Lapidus.

Tell us what you want to hear about on our new show. We want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, as it is.

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