Pope Benedict XVI announced a surprise decision before a consistory of Cardinals Monday morning at the Vatican that he will be the first Pope in six centuries to resign the Petrine office, and that he will do so effective at 8:00pm Rome time on Thursday, February 28th. At that time, the Holy See will be vacant and a conclave of those members of the College of Cardinals under the age of 80 will be convened to elect a new pope
The internet has been aflame with rumors for most of the day, including those who have attempted to say that the Holy Father was forced to resign. The very tone of the papal statement would seem to rule that out. “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 barque 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,” Benedict said. Benedict hinted in 2010 that if any pope became physically unable to exercise the duties of the papal ministry that he had a right, and “perhaps a duty” to resign, alluding for some time that today’s announcement was a step he might be willing to take.