WASHINGTON, February 11, 2013 — In an announcement not heard in 600 years, Pope Benedict XVI said today during a meeting at the Vatican with his cardinals that he would resign on Feb. 28.
Nearly eight years after the conclave of cardinals made him the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict, who is 85, has decided that his failing health, “advanced age” and ebbing strength make it difficult for him to carry forward with his duties.
The Pope’s historic decision necessitates a new conclave to be convened by the end of March. Usually there is a traditional mourning period following a pope’s death, but due to these circumstances a conclave can be called sooner.
Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 as a way to satisfy a deal ending the Great Western Schism, was the last pope to resign, nearly 600 years ago.
While several cardinals have been mentioned as possible candidates to succeed the current Pope there are no clear favorites, leaving the field wide open.
Below is the full statement made by the Pope and released by Vatican Radio:
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
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