Today's big news is that Pope Benedict has decided to retire. It's a shock, but maybe it shouldn't be; he's been trying to retire for a long time, since he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:
The longest serving Curia cardinal who is now fulfilling his third five year mandate as the spokesman for orthodoxy, Ratzinger said he was planning to retire in November 1996, the 15th anniversary of his Vatican service under Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Ratzinger, who will be 69 on his anniversary as Prefect in 1996 and so six years short of the age limit of 75 for active Curia service, has always said that he wished to retire early.
In addition, he suffered what was described as a mild stroke over a year ago.
That was 1994; he's been in poor health for a couple decades. In 2005, when Cardinal Ratzinger was in line for the papacy, there were still questions of whether he wanted the job, and if so for how long he'd want it:
Moreover, John Paul's very public health woes may prompt the Cardinals to push his successor to impose a mechanism to avoid another pontificate slowed by illness. Ratzinger, who has sought ways to adapt church governance for modern times, might be willing to agree to an age limit and pass on the job after a few years.
The Church has actually been moving in this direction recently; since 1970, cardinals had to stop voting for a new pope when they turned 80, for reasons of age, politics, or both. They also have to submit their resignation when they turn 75, but the pope can decide to extend their service, as Cardinal Ratzinger found out. He tried to quit three times; now that he's the boss, he finally can.
The odds are already up on his successor. As usual, don't get excited for an American pope, though we could get a Canadian: Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, who's neck and neck with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. The odds that the Church will have a black or non-European pope look good though whatever happens, olitical science suggests it won't be an easy vote.
Cardinal Francis George? He's at the bottom, getting 200-1 odds from Irish bookmaker PaddyPower, almost an order of magnitude higher than Cardinal Timothy Dolan. For context, that's better odds than they give the Astros winning the World Series this year, but not as good as the Cubs. It's not that much better than the odds PaddyPower gives Father Dougal Maguire (1000-1), who would be a poor choice even if he actually existed.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Marek.69 (CC by 2.0)