|Pope Benedict XVI|
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he will resign as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics on Feb. 28 because his age prevented him from carrying out his duties – an unprecedented move in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
“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,” the 85-year-old pope said in a speech pronounced in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican.
“In order to govern the ship 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,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Pope Benedict, who has looked increasingly weary in recent months and often has to use a mobile platform to move around St Peter’s basilica during Church services, had hinted in a book of interviews in 2010 that he might resign if he felt he was no longer able to carry out his duties.
“The pope caught us a bit by surprise,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a hastily arranged press conference.
The only other pope to resign because he felt unable to fulfill his duties was Celestine V in 1296, a hermit who stepped down after just a few months in office, saying he yearned for a simpler life and was not physically capable for the office.
But the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, according to the British daily The Guardian.
Gregory stood down to end the “Western Schism,” which threatened to shatter Roman Catholicism. Two rival claimants had declared themselves pope in Avignon and Pisa and, with the help of the wily Italian politician Malatesta, Gregory’s resignation helped unite the church at the Council of Constance in 1415.
Tributes poured in from around the world, with a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel saying the German-born pope deserved “respect” and “gratitude” for his nearly eight years as pontiff.
French President Francois Hollande said the pope’s decision was “eminently respectable.”
Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005 after serving nearly a quarter-century as the Church’s doctrinal enforcer, earning himself the nickname “God’s Rottweiller.”
His papacy has been marked by his efforts to revive the Catholic faith amid rising secularism in the West, as well as the scandals of child abuse by Catholic priests that was hushed-up for decades.
“We join the Catholic world and all whose lives the pope has touched, in prayer and sympathy. May he find respite from his physical challenges, and peace and contentment in the seclusion of retirement,” it said.
Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines assistant secretary-general Fr. Marvin Mejia said “the CBCP has not received any official communication from the nunciature yet on the matter.”
In an interview over 24 Oras, former Philippine ambassador to Rome Henrietta de Villa said the Vatican’s announcement of the pope’s resignation would not impact strongly on Catholics. – Aurea Calica,Evelyn Macairan