The pope has surprised the world by announcing his resignation. From BBC:
Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of this month after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church, saying he is too old to continue at the age of 85.
The unexpected development – the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years – surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even his closest aides.
The Vatican says it expects a new Pope to be elected before Easter.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after John Paul II’s death.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the move has come as a shock, but in theory, there has never been anything stopping Pope Benedict or any of his predecessors from stepping aside.
Under Canon Law, the only conditions for the validity of such a resignation are that it be made freely and be properly published.
A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that even the Pope’s closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left “incredulous”. He added that the decision showed “great courage” and “determination”.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he was “greatly shaken by this unexpected news”.
The brother of the German-born Pope said the pontiff had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.
At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when elected.
Here is his official statement:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.
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.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, 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 steer the boat 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil 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, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.
And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
Should this matter to non-Catholics?