In an unanticipated statement that shocked members of the Catholic Church and greatly surprised the rest of the world, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he would resign from the papacy, effective February 28.
Benedict, who is 85, delivered his statement to a small gathering of cardinals, speaking in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church. He said, in part:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.... In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome.
The papal announcement was followed by a news conference called by the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
“The pope took us by surprise,” the New York Times quoted Father Lombardi, who quoted from a lengthy interview that a German journalist had with Benedict in 2010. During that interview, Benedict had said that “if a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”
Benedict, noted the Times, is “the church’s 265th pope [and] the first German to hold the title in half a millennium.”
Generally regarded by the mainstream media as a “conservative” pope, though secular political labels generally fail to describe an institution that is hierarchical in its structure, Benedict was often at odds with the more “progressive” elements within the Church that rebelled against its doctrines. A report in the Wall Street Journal noted:
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Photo of Pope Benedict XVI: AP Images