In a surprising announcement, the Vatican announced on Monday, Feb. 11, that Pope Benedict XVI will resign effective Feb. 28, according to major media sources.
You can read the text of Pope Benedict's announcement at the Associated Press website.
Pope Benedict's announcement, made at a meeting with Vatican cardinals, was a shock to Catholics around the world. Not in our lifetime, nor our parents' or our great-grandparents' lifetimes has a pope resigned.
The most recent resignation of a pope was in 1415 when Pope Gregory XII resigned to end a church schism.
Pope Benedict cited his age and deteriorating strength of mind and body as the reason he will step down, saying, "I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
The 85-year-old pope further stated that a conclave of cardinals would be convoked to elect a new pope by the end of March.
Among the many questions Catholics are asking are if the pope has major health concerns and whether the new pope will be elected in time to celebrate the Easter Triduum, the three holiest days of the church: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
To a cradle Catholic like myself, it's hard to imagine a pope voluntarily stepping down, regardless of the reasons.
Like Catholics of all generations, I was raised to consider the pope's teachings to be infallible. Although the pope's decision doesn't fall in to the category of papal infallibility, many outside the Catholic faith may bring up this teaching of our faith.
Central among Catholic teachings is the belief in papal infallibility. Although some outside the Catholic faith take this to mean that a pope can never sin, that's not the case.
Papal infallibility, as noted at Catholic.com, refers to the pope being the final authority in matters of faith.
As the rest of the story unfolds, perhaps all of the faithful around the world will have answers to the many questions held within their hearts.