Pope announces decision to retire Feb. 28 ...African may succeed him
Category: Lead stories
"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," the Pope said in a statement issued on Monday.
Minutes after the announcement, the Vatican website crashed under the weight of traffic. Pope Benedict XVI was elected Pope at the age of 78, making him the oldest person to have been elected.
His resignation came without any 'real prior warning' or 'public speculation', Guardian's Rome Correspondent, Lizzy Davies wrote.
"...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," the statement said further.
Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who witnessed the pope's resignation described the events leading to the announcement as follows:
"We were all in the Sala del Concistorio in the third loggia of the Apostolic palace. After giving the date for the canonisation, the 12th of May, the pope took a sheet of paper and read from it.
"He just said that he was resigning and that he would be finishing on February 28.
"We were all left … [he tailed off, lost for words]
"The cardinals were just looking at one another. Then the pope got to his feet, gave his benediction and left. It was so simple; the simplest thing imaginable. Extraordinary. Nobody expected it.
"Then we all left in silence. There was absolute silence … and sadness," Monsignor Sanchez said.
The pope's spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope's decision "took us by surprise" – indicating even Benedict's closest aides did not know what he was thinking of doing, Reuters reports. His decision left aides "incredulous", the spokesman said.
Lombardi said the pope took his decision "aware of the great problems the church faces today". His decision showed "great courage" and "determination", Lombardi said.
It was Benedict's own personal decision made without any outside pressure.
He ruled out depression or "uncertainty" as the cause of his resignation.
And he said the resignation was not due to any specific illness.
The pope may have wanted to resign now to avoid the exhausting rush of Easter engagements, Lombardi said.
The office will remain vacant after February 28 until a new Pope is elected.
Upon resigning, he will go to the papal summer residence near Rome, and then will move to a cloistered residence in the Vatican.
Speculators believe the era of an African Pope may have arrived as two of the top three contenders are from the continent.
The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Cardinal Peter Turkson (Ghana), Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada) and Francis Arinze (Nigeria) are seen as top contenders to replace Pope Benedict.
The last Pope to resign from office was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Other Popes to have resigned from office are Pope Celestine V in 1294 who after only five months as the Bishop of Rome, issued a solemn decree declaring it possible that a pope can resign and then promptly did so. He then lived the rest of his days as a hermit and was later canonised.
His papal decree ended any debate over whether a pope can justify standing down during his lifetime.
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.
Profile of Pope Benedict