Pope Benedict said on Monday that he will resign as of Feb 28th. The 85-year-old will be the first pontiff to resign in over 600 years--since the Middle Ages. The last Pope to exercise his rights to abdicate was Pope Celestine V, in 1294.
Pope Benedict said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months "to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me".
A Vatican spokesman said Benedict's aides were "incredulous" when he told them he would step down because he was too weak to fulfill his duties. He summoned a meeting of cardinals to tell them of "a decision of great importance for the life of the church".
Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who was called into the hearing said that the announcement was completely unexpected amount the Cardinals. "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," he said.
"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."
Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said Benedict, 85, had resigned not because of "difficulties in the papacy" or a specific illness but instead a progressive decline in his strength. "In the last few months he has seen a decline in vigor, both of the body and spirit," Lombardi told reporters. "It was his personal decision taken with full freedom, which deserves maximum respect."
In a statement, Benedict said, "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. 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."
His successor is expected to be elected by the end of March and possibly for the beginning of holy week on 24 March. Benedict will honor public commitments and engagements until the date of his resignation, after which he will move to a summer residence near Rome and then to a former monastery within Vatican territory.
He will take no part in the process to elect a successor. Cardinals will meet and vote on nominees in a series of ballots until a new pope is chosen.
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