The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, announced on February 11 2013 and to take effect on February 28, is a precedent in that it was unexpected, according to Bishop Hristo Proikov, chairman of the Bishops Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Bulgaria.
There were cases of Popes retiring but doing so as suddenly as Benedict had was truly unprecedented, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio reported Proikov as saying.
The first Pope to resign was Celestine V in 1294 and the most recent was Gregory XII in 1415.
Proikov said that the resignation of Benedict should not affect the church because canon law allowed the post to remain vacant, for example because of the death of a Pope.
A college of cardinals will meet at the Vatican to elect a new Pope after Benedict’s resignation takes effect. Reports said that it was expected that the new Pope would be elected in March.
Roman Catholics make up a very small minority among Bulgaria’s religions, numbering 48 945 according to voluntary declarations of religious affiliation in 2011. Bulgaria has a population of about 7.3 million, according to the 2011 census, with the largest single religious group being adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
In the first few hours after Benedict announced his resignation, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – itself facing the election of a new head, on February 24 2013, to succeed the late Patriarch Maxim – remained silent on the topic of Benedict’s decision to quit.
(Photo: St Joseph’s Roman Catholic cathedral, Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)