PHOTOS: Pope Benedict XVI, installment to resignation
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STATEMENT: Pope Benedicts' full resignation
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AP INTERACTIVE: Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict will be the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.
"The moment is a somber one but it is also a joyful one because someone who has given his whole life to the lord in his body of the church has now made a very courageous decision," Cardinal George said. The pope's announcement caught him off guard, he said.
A new pope should be elected by a conclave by the end of March.
"The conclave will start shortly after that. whether it will be a short or a long conclave, there's no way to know. But there's no reason to wait," Prof. Peter Casarella, DePaul University Catholic Studies, said.
Pope Benedict, 85, announced his retirement to the Vatican cardinals in Latin. He said carrying out the duties of being pope - the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide - requires "both strength of mind and body."
"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 barque 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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
Benedict, who was elected pontiff in 2005 at the age of 78 after the death of Pope John Paul II, called his resignation "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."
Because the mourning period for a pope won't be observed, the conclave can meet in March.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope's conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn't need a pope from a "superpower." All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.
Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be "freely made and properly manifested." The last to do so was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
When Benedict was elected pope at age 78 - already the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years - he had been already planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.
POPE BENEDICT XVI'S FULL STATEMENT:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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. 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 bark 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. 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.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
Report: Pope was considering quitting for months
(BERLIN) The pope's brother, Georg Ratzinger, says the pontiff had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28.
Talking from his home in Regensburg to the news agency dpa, Georg Ratzinger said his brother was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a "natural process."
"His age is weighing on him," the 89-year-old said of his 85-year-old brother. "At this age my brother wants more rest."
Georg Ratzinger did not answer his telephone for calls seeking further comment.
Precedents for papal resignations
The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down on Feb. 28. While such papal resignations are extremely rare, there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.
- Marcellinus: This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor's order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
- Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045.
-Celestine V: Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after five months as pope in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his tomb in the central Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009.
-Gregory XII: The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
Statement by President Obama on His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's successor.
Statement by Speaker Boehner on Announcement by Pope Benedict XVI
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued the following statement regarding the decision announced today by Pope Benedict XVI: "The prayers and gratitude of American Catholics are with Pope Benedict XVI today. The Holy Father's decision displays extraordinary humility and love for the Church, two things that have been the hallmarks of his service. Americans were inspired by his visit to the United States in 2008, and by his quiet, steady leadership of the Church in uncertain times. People of all nations have been blessed by the sacrifices he has made to sow the seeds of hope, justice, and compassion throughout the world in the name of Our Lord and Savior."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also released a statement:
"Pope Benedict XVI has been a great spiritual leader. Before His Holiness' triumphant visit to the United States, he stated that the 'world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom.' That was his message to America; that has been his message to the world. As a public official, I will be forever grateful to Pope Benedict for his powerful Encyclical, 'God Is Love,' where he wrote of the urgency for public servants and government to promote justice. Although Pope Benedict XVI is stepping aside, the world will continue to be inspired by His Holiness' spirituality, leadership, and vision for the future. We all thank him for his legacy of concern for children and wish him well."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.