With Pope Benedict XVI's shocking announcement that he will resign from his office Feb. 28, making him the first pontiff to do so in almost six centuries, speculations and rumors are swirling as to why the pope has chosen to step down.

According to the Associated Press, the 85-year-old pope cited health concerns as his official reason, but some are already wondering if the sexual abuse scandals that plagued the pope's tenure may another motivation.

The pope's eight years in office were rocked by the continuing abuse scandals, notes The Guardian. And "God's Rottweiler" found himself "all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his own making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics."

In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests accused the pope and several other Vatican officials of crimes against humanity, according to The Guardian. The complaint accused the church leadership of perpetuating a "systematic and widespread" practice of concealing abuse.

Early in February, Cardinal William Levada, a top Vatican official involved in protecting children from abuse, publicly defended Pope Benedict and championed the pope's record on for instituting reforms, reports CNN.

The timing of Pope Benedict's resignation, following this public show of support, is suspicious to some, given its proximity to a new HBO documentary, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," which premiered on Feb. 4.

The film, nominated for a Writers Guild of America award, documents a "decades-old effort to protect and in some instances seemingly aid sexually predatory priests, a conspiracy that the film argues, snakes through every level of the Roman Catholic hierarchy including the current and past popes," according to the Los Angeles Times.

While it is highly doubtful this speculation will ever be addressed by the Vatican, it is clear that the reign of Pope Benedict XVI is closely linked, in the minds of many, to sexual abuse in the Church.

From Salon's Natasha Lennard:

...Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was a fiercely conservative Catholic leader who failed to challenge a widespread child sex abuse scandal in the church. His papal legacy will include the maintenance of system of impunity for abusers of the church’s most defenseless and innocent members.

The Vatican will meet to discuss the pope's successor in March.

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  • Pope Benedict Sex Abuse Speculation

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  • Pope Benedict Sex Abuse Speculation

  • Pope Benedict Sex Abuse Speculation

  • Pope Benedict Sex Abuse Speculation

  • Pope Benedict Sex Abuse Speculation