Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that will resign his office on Feb. 28, ending eight years as head of the world’s Catholics because the 85-year-old pontiff is too infirm to carry on. He is the first pope to resign in 600 years.
“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.”
The pope said that said, “both strength of mind and body are necessary” to oversee the world’s 1 billion Catholics, “strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, said the pontiff had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.
Talking from his home in Regensburg, Germany, Georg Ratzinger said his brother was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a “natural process.”
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. He called his choice to leave “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.” He will retire to a monastery on the Vatican grounds.
The announcement comes as a surprise to many Catholics in Rome though they weer aware that the pope was ill.
“My first impression was one of incredulity,” said Stefano Marino, an engineer and former director of technical services at the Vatican, 73 in Rome. “It is clear that he’s very sick but nobody would have expected such a definitive decision.
“On one hand it has to be said he has shown courage by taking responsibility and making such a decision, because of the great importance of his role – the last time a pope resigned was six centuries ago,” Marino said. ” But he has also showed a weakness that John Paul II did not have – John Paul II made a strength of failing health.”