Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorNo matter how you feel about Pope Benedict XVI, there is no question he is one of the world’s most significant figures.

That’s why his abrupt announcement about stepping down caught many off guard, and signals that there may be big changes in the Catholic Church … and for the world.

So why would a Pope essentially resign?

Like many things within the church, health information is held close to the vest, and speculation is the rule rather than the exception.

Here’s partially what is known:

– He became Pope at age 78 — the oldest in 300 years.
– He is now 85, an age when even the most robust are not-so-robust.
– The typical retirement age for a Bishop, BTW, is age 75.

He supposedly has an “agile” mind, with no known health problems. Yet info over the years point to severe arthritis in the knee, hips, and spine — making walking, kneeling, or any movement, difficult.

He admittedly has an enlarged prostate, but not cancer.

He may be suffering from low-level heart failure, which causes fatigue and breathing problems.

He suffered a stroke in 1991, and temporarily lost vision in one eye for close to a year.

He may have had a second, more mild stroke in 2005.

He broke his right wrist in 2009.

Medications are unknown.

And that’s it — at least for what is reliable information.

The bottom line to this whole thing may be just what he says it is: He is tired, and simply cannot keep up with the normal duties of the job. Sometimes people know that their health is much worse than it appears to others, and that their days are drawing to some endpoint.

As a doctor, I don’t know the reasoning, except for thinking that the reasoning seems wise. He cannot fulfill his duties, so it is best to allow the Church to thoughtfully choose a successor — rather than scrambling for a replacement.

Age 85 isn’t young, and perhaps it is time for a younger, healthier person to assume the duties.

Let those who are critical of the Church, or on the other hand, believe it is infallible, have that discussion elsewhere. This simply addresses the decision of the Pope.


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