Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that he would resign by the end of the month, citing concerns that he no longer has the strength to preside over more than one billion Catholics.
“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,” the pope told his cardinals on Monday in Vatican City, according to a transcript of his speech published by Radio Vatican.
Benedict, who was elected eight years ago and was formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is the first pope to resign in more than 600 years. Pope Gregory XII was the last pontiff to resign, doing so in 1415 amid a schism in the Catholic Church.
“Both strength of mind and body are necessary,” the pope said, “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.”
Pope Benedict’s announcement Monday came as an unexpected development. Father Federico Lombardi, the head of the Holy See press office, said that the pope’s announcement “took us by surprise,” Radio Vatican reported.
“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, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on April 19, 2005,” the 85-year-old pope said.
Lombardi also said that the pope was “absolutely not” depressed or had any medical illness, according to the Catholic News Service.
Benedict’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, told The Associated Press that in recent days, “his age is weighing on him,” speaking of his brother. “At this age, my brother wants more rest.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said that he was “very shocked by this unexpected news,” according to the Gazetta del Sud publication. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she has the “very highest respect” for Pope Benedict’s decision, according to AP.
Analysts say that there is no clear favorite for Benedict’s successor. Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana; Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria; Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian chief of the Vatican office for Bishops are all said to be favorites to take Benedict’s spot, reported the Telegraph and The New York Times.
When asked why the pope chose Feb. 11 as the date to announce his resignation, Father Lombardi said that it was likely a coincidence, reported the Catholic News Service. “The pope chose this significant occasion with the gathered cardinals,” he said.
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