The decisionby Pope Benedict XVI to relinquish office at the end of February because of his frail health has surprised the Vatican and dismayed Catholics worldwide.
ThePope, aged 85, said in a statement on Monday: “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 my ministry.” His resignation is due on February 28.
The news has been met with widespread surprise. Journalist Damian Thompson wrote in the Daily Telegraph in the UK that Catholics would be deeply shocked and in most cases dismayed by the Pope’s decision to step down.
But he added that the decision was “an act of deep self-sacrifice by a man not prepared to see the Roman Catholic Church suffer as a result of his increased frailty.” The Pope made his initial announcement in Latin and his statement was immediately translated into Italian, French, English, German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.
Pope Benedict XVI was already one of the oldest new Popes when he succeeded the late John Paul II in 2005 at the age of 78.
He is the first Pope to step down since Pope Gregory relinquished office in the year 1415.