Early today, in a move that surprised even his closest aides in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective February 28. A consistory to elect a new pope follows immediately.
Here is the full text of his resignation letter, courtesy of Sandro Magister at Il Espresso:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, 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 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, 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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
Immediate reactions and some background information are being provided by the Guardian in London. They provided a nice summary of previous papal resignations. The last was 600 years ago, when Pope Gregory XII resigned to end the great Western Schism:
The best known example involved Pope Celestine V in 1294. After only five months as the Bishop of Rome, he issued a solemn decree declaring it possible that a pope can resign and then promptly did so…..
Before Celestine, the only other two pontiffs to resign were the current Pope’s namesake Benedict IX in 1045 and his successor Gregory VI the year after….
The last time a pope resigned was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. He stood down to end the “Western Schism”, which threatened to shatter Roman Catholicism. Two rival claimants had declared themselves pope in Avignon and Pisa and, with the help of the wily Italian politician Malatesta, Gregory’s resignation helped unite the church at the Council of Constance in 1415.