Early Monday morning, Pope Benedict XVI announced his plans to resign at the end of the month. Within minutes, gossips and conspiracy theorists across the internet were animated with discussion, all assuming that the pope's advanced age—his stated reason for the abdication—had nothing to do with the decision. Why did he really resign? We've collected some of the best theories.


Last year's "Vatileaks" scandal, in which the pope's butler Paolo Gabriele provided Italian journalists with a number of confidential Vatican documents—revealing corruption, intrigue and infighting at the highest levels of the church. "Knowing that one of his closest aides had betrayed him must have left him very isolated and powerless. The Pope must have felt that power was slipping away from him, his power to govern," The Table editor Elena Curti told Metro. Did Vatileaks take down the pope? Or were the scandals it uncovered just a taste of what's to come—and is Benedict's abdication a preemptory move?

The Child Sexual Assault Scandal and Mea Maxima Culpa

Benedict, who as a bishop prevented a convicted abuser from being defrocked, and as a cardinal asserted the church's right to secrecy in the face of assault allegations, spent much of his papacy passively facing increasingly widespread sexual assault revelations. Is it possible that more—and worse—revelations are coming? The new HBO documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa, which premiered last week, indicts Benedict and the Vatican he presided over: as filmmaker Alex Gibney told the Daily Beast, the case he explored "uncovered documents that lead straight to the top, straight to Joseph Ratzinger-then-cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict." Did Mea Maxima Culpa push the pope over the edge?

St. Malachy's Prophecy of the Popes

A document attributed the 12-century saint Malachy is said to predict and describe in short sentences, starting with Pope Celestine II (elected 1143), each of the next 112 popes. According to the prophecy, Benedict XVI is Gloria oliuæ, or "Glory of the olive"; he's said to fulfill the prophecy because the Benedictine Order contains an olive branch in its crest. The next lines in the prophecy are its last:

This is what follows Gloria oliuæ, translated into English:

"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop].
Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations:
and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed,
and the terrible judge will judge his people.
The End."

Cardinal Peter Turkson is considered a frontrunner for the pontificate. Is he Peter the Roman, after whose reign Rome will be destroyed and the world will come to an end?

The Knights Templar

We turn finally—as always—to Godlike Productions, the greatest message board on the internet. "The Knights Templar are responsible for the resignation of the Pope," one commenter suggests, citing Nostradamus. Another brings up the intriguing figure of Berenger Sauniere, the priest at the center of the Rennes-le-Château scandal that inspired The Da Vinci Code, and his reputed obsession with a painting of painting of Pope Celestine V—one of the only three popes besides Benedict to have abdicated. Other commenters are less convinced by the Knights Templar theory:

Am I missing anything? Not hearing the right gossip? Forgetting the Illuminati or a banking scandal? Share your inside knowledge and wild speculation below.

[Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Getty.]