In a shocking announcement today, Pope Benedict XVI said he will resign on the evening of Feb. 28, his spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNN. The 85 year-old pope is resigning, “because of advanced age”, he told the Vatican cardinals of the Catholic Church in Latin on Monday. Pope Benedict’s reign has been marked with a series of scandals and controversies, including many allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
“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”, the Holy Father told the cardinals, according to the Vatican.
The last resignation by a pope occurred in 1415, when Pope Gregory XII did so in order to end a civil war within the church, in which more than one man claimed to be pope.
Fox News reports the statement went on to say, “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”.
Pope Benedict said he is aware of the “seriousness” of his resignation, but added that he did so in “full freedom”. Benedict XVI was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected in 2005.
This move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave for the election of a new pope by the middle of March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope needn’t be observed.
This will be a marked difference in ceremony and mood, as typically the election of a new pope is tainted with the sadness of the passing of the previous one. The process is also typically preceded by the pageantry of the funeral for the former pope.
There are said to be several papal contenders in the wings, but no clear front-runner, this according to Vatican watchers.