FaithWorld

Pope Benedict marks milestones this week amid signs of frailty and succession talk

(Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of the Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 15, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

Pope Benedict marks two milestones this week and while his health appears stable, signs of frailty have again prompted speculation over whether he will be the first pontiff in seven centuries to resign.

Benedict, one of the oldest popes in history, turns 85 on Monday, and on Thursday he marks the seventh anniversary of his election as successor to the immensely popular John Paul II.

Speaking to pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, he noted Thursday’s anniversary and asked for prayers “so that the Lord may give me the strength to carry out the mission he has entrusted to me”.

Benedict is already older than John Paul was when he died in 2005 and is now the oldest reigning pope since Leo XIII, who died aged 93 in 1903 after reigning for 25 years.

Pope Benedict reaffirms ban on women priests, assails Austrian “call to disobedience”

(Pope Benedict XVI looks on as he leads the Chrismal mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 5, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi )

Pope Benedict has restated the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Benedict, who for decades before his 2005 election was the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer, delivered an unusually direct denunciation of disobedient priests in a sermon at a morning Mass on Holy Thursday, when the Church commemorates the day Christ instituted the priesthood.

The pope responded specifically to a call to disobedience by a group of Austrian priests and laity, who last year boldly and openly challenged Church teaching on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and women’s ordination. “Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?,” he asked rhetorically in the sermon of a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows.

Pope Benedict slams U.S. embargo on Cuba, meets Fidel Castro

(Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Castro )

Pope Benedict called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and met with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro on Wednesday as he ended a trip in which he urged the communist island to change.

He also spoke at a public Mass in Havana’s sprawling Revolution Square where the Vatican said 300,000 people gathered to hear the 84-year-old pontiff.

What does a pope do? Fidel Castro asks Pope Benedict

(Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict and Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, both octogenarians, joked about their age in a brief meeting on Wednesday and then Castro popped the question: so what do you do?

The two world figures chatted for about 30 minutes at the Vatican embassy in Havana near the end of the pope’s three-day visit to Cuba, where he called for greater freedom and a bigger role for the Catholic Church in the communist-led nation.

Cuba quashes hopes for reform as Pope Benedict meets Raul Castro

(Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by Cuban President Raul Castro (R) at Revolution Palace in Havana March 27, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

Pope Benedict and Cuban President Raul Castro have met for talks on a papal trip that has sparked hopes for economic and political change, but one national leader said there would be no political reform on the communist island.

Cuban television showed the pope and Castro in the Palace of the Revolution on Tuesday at the beginning and end of an hour-long meeting, but they did not speak to the press. A Vatican spokesman said former leader Fidel Castro, who may or may not meet with Benedict, did not attend the talks.

Pope Benedict visits Latin America in the shadow of Pope John Paul

(A car drives past a poster of Pope Benedict XVI, which reads "welcome to Cuba" in Havana March 21, 2012. Pope Benedict will visit Cuba on March 26-28. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa )

A ghost will be following Pope Benedict at every step of his trip to Mexico and Cuba — that of his predecessor John Paul.

John Paul, who died in 2005, was a huge draw in many places. But, apart from his native Poland, nowhere was he a more towering figure than in Latin America, visiting every one of the region’s countries at least once. He drew oceanic, throbbing crowds, sloshed through swampy slums in Ecuador, challenged Maoist guerrillas in the Peruvian highlands and defended miners’ rights in Bolivia.

Irish Catholic Church leaders were negligent about abuse, Vatican report says

(Celtic cross at Ballinskelligs Priory, 18 March 2008/Ulrich Hartmann)

A Vatican report on the sexual abuse of Irish children by Catholic clergy accused Ireland’s religious leaders of negligence and called for more reforms there to avoid a similarly “shameful” scandal in the future.

Irish bishops assured Vatican investigators that they would promptly notify civil authorities of new sexual abuse cases and would make changes to Catholic education and seminary life.

“With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious (nuns) to whose care they had been entrusted,” the report, released on Tuesday, said. “Those who should have exercised diligence often failed to do so effectively.”

Ahead of pope’s trip, the Vatican says U.S. Cuba embargo is useless

(People wait as children are baptized near a poster of Pope Benedict in a catholic church in the village of Marti in the province of Matanzas in central Cuba, around 160 km (99 miles) east of Havana March 10, 2012. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan)

The Vatican on Friday condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba ahead of Pope Benedict’s trip there next week and said the pontiff was willing to meet Fidel Castro.

“The Holy See believes that the embargo is something that makes the people suffer the consequences. It does not achieve the aim of the greater good,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

Vatican issues one-month ultimatum to traditionalist Catholic group SSPX

(Bishop Bernard Fellay meets the faithful after an ordination ceremony in Econe, southwest Switzerland, June 29, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

The Vatican on Friday told an ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic splinter group they must accept non-negotiable doctrinal principles within a month or risk a painful break with Rome that would have “incalculable” consequences.

The ultimatum was issued after a two-hour meeting between Swiss-born Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the dissident Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and U.S. Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department.

Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams pray together but skirt problems

(Pope Benedict XVI (R) arrives with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to celebrate the Vespers at San Gregorio al Celio Basilic in Rome March 10, 2012. REUTERS/Ettore Ferrari/Pool)

Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, met and prayed together on Saturday but made only glancing references to the divisions between their Churches.

Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke of the “certain but imperfect” link between the two Christian traditions during his address to the congregation at a joint service at the church of St Gregory the Great near Rome’s Colosseum.