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Not the first Pope to step down

February 11th, 2013
05:46 PM ET

By Lucky Gold & Richa Naik, CNN

While it is rare for a pope to step down, it has happened before – though not always by choice.

Nearly 1,000 years ago, Pope Benedict IX was accused of rape and murder (one historian even called him “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”). He was so despised that the Church actually paid him to quit.

Four hundred years later, Pope Gregory XII was pressured to resign in order to end the Western Schism, a division in the Church.

Although Vatican records are sealed on the subject, it is said that during World War II, the controversial Pope Pius XII had a letter of resignation prepared, in case he was kidnapped by the Nazis.

But there was one pope who chose, completely voluntarily, to give up his crown. In 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned after only five months. He preferred the simple life of a monk to the majesty of being pope.

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI was inspired by Celestine’s example?

He has visited Celestine’s tomb twice in just two years. You can see photos from his visit in the video above.

READ MORE: Pope’s friend ‘not surprised’ by Benedict XVI’s decision

Filed under:  Catholic Church • Latest Episode

Sen. McCain: 'Assad could have been stopped last year'

February 11th, 2013
05:02 PM ET

The civil war in Syria could have been stopped last year if President Obama had armed the rebels, Republican Senator John McCain told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

“I always believed that we could provide weapons and training, but I also felt it was important to establish a safe zone,” McCain said. Had that happened, he added, “I am confident that [the rebels] would have succeeded by now.”

In Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s exit testimony before Congress last week, he revealed that Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus had offered up a plan to arm and train the Syrian opposition last summer. The plan was rejected by the White House.

With his testimony, Panetta became the first senior official to publicly admit that he, along with key members of the President's national security team, disagreed with the White House decision not to give weapons to Syrian rebels.

Two years into the fighting, the vicious war has at best reached a military stalemate. There is no meaningful sign that either side is ready for real negotiations, though both the opposition and the Assad regime have recently indicated for the first time that they would be willing to talk.

With 60,000 dead, Syria may be headed toward a Somalia-style failed state that could threaten the U.S. and its friends in the region.

What is Plan B? Senator John McCain answers that question in the video above.

READ MORE: Plea from parents of missing American in Syria

Filed under:  Latest Episode • Syria

Pope’s friend ‘not surprised’ by Benedict XVI’s decision

February 11th, 2013
04:59 PM ET

The Pope’s announcement on Monday that he will resign at the end of February surprised the world, and even many of his closest aides.

But one friend of Pope Benedict XVI isn’t shocked at all.

“I’ve known him for many years. I’m not surprised at this decision that he made today because he’s always placed the emphasis – the priority of the Catholic Church over any kind of ambition,” the Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Joseph Flynn, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday. “I think he has really recognized and sees that this is an opportunity to move the Church forward for a more energetic person in good health.”

The Pope has admitted in the last four or five months that he is in declining health, Flynn said.

In the video above, Flynn says the timing of the Pope’s announcement may have to do with Lent, an important six week period for many Christian denominations leading to Easter Sunday, which begins this week.

Filed under:  Catholic Church • Latest Episode