Pope Benedict XVI to resign on February 28 because of age, health
THE head of the Catholic Church worldwide Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign from his position in two weeks, the first head of the church to do so in almost 600 years.
In a lengthy statement last night, the Vatican announced he would leave the ministry at 8pm on February 28.
The 85-year-old pope said his strength was such he no longer felt he could adequately stay in office and his decision was "of great importance for the life of the church".
He was only seen in public yesterday reading the Angelus to the faithful from his Vatican window and gave no indication of the announcement he would make the next day.
Those who attended that mass said his voice had seen strong and there had been no talk about the Vatican that he was secretly planning to step down.
It has taken many in the church by surprise as well as the Italian media who follow his steps closely.
An hour before the worldwide announcement he informed Cardinals in a statement in Latin.
"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," he told the cardinals.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by 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 bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately the ministry entrusted to me."
The church said it would seek a new pontiff as soon as possible but the move was seen as uncharted waters, with historians saying you would have to go back almost six centuries to find another pope who had quit.
The last Pope to quit was Pope Gregory XII who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.
Observers say he had been looking particularly frail in recent months and notably at a public outing late last year in Rome appeared to be barely able to walk.
Celebrating a mass at St Peters he would often be pushed along the basilicas long aisle to the alter on a small stand on wheels rather than force himself to walk.
Born Joesph Aloisius Ratzinger on April 26, 1927, he was ordained as a priest in his native Bavaria in 1951 and rose up through the church ranks to be elected as Pope in 2005 and with his inauguration on April 24 that year.
His reign was seen as stable although he was criticised for not adequately responding to the scandal of sex abuse withi the church.
He was deeply conservative in his papalcy and outlook.
A hint of perhaps his lack of internal management came late last year when a butler was found to have been stealing documents off his desk and leaking them to the Italian media.
Story by Charles Miranda, European correspondent, News Australia
PELL REACTION TO POPE
Australia's most senior Catholic says last night’s resignation of Pope Benedict XVI caught him by surprise.
Cardinal George Pell AC, the Archbishop of Sydney, will cast his vote on the Catholic Church’s new leader in Rome by the end of the month, following the first resignation of a Pope since 1415.
"Pope Benedict has always loved the Church and worked to do what was best for her. His resignation came as a surprise to me. We thank him for his years of devoted leadership and service, and his brilliant teaching. We’ll pray for him as he enteres retirement. We must also pray for the church as she prepares to choose the next successor of St Peter,” Cardinal Pell said in a brief statement.
Father Brian Lucis, Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the unforeseen announcement came as a "great surprise" to the religious community.
"The decision of the Pope is extraordinarily courageous. He has come to appreciate the limitations caused by his age and his health, and rather than continue with those limitations he is stepping aside to allow an election of a successor who will be better able to fulfil the extraordinary demands on a modern Pope," Father Brian said.
Last night speculation was rife as to whether Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, would be a contender for the Catholic Church’s highest position.
"Pope Benedict XVI" and "Vatican" both trended on Twitter.
Melbourne Catholic identity Father Bob McGuire took to the social networking website to ask whether Cardinal Pell would be elected.
Father Brian said Cardinal Pell would journey to Rome in the next two weeks to cast his vote on the church's next leader."They will spend a few days of prayer and discussion among themselves and then, on the nominated day, they will all move into what’s called the conclave, where they will have a series of secret ballots until a candidate receives the necessary two-thirds majority," he said.
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Pope to resign: Pope Benedict XVI is stepping out of his office on February 28. In this Sept. 12, 2006, file photo, Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the end of a papal Mass in Regensburg, southern Germany. Picture: AFP
Strike: Lightning strikes St Peter's dome at the Vatican on February 11, 2013. Picture: AFP
Resignation: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his message at the end of a meeting of Vatican cardinals, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013.