Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict
VATICAN CITY — Saying he no longer has the strength to exercise ministry over the universal church, Pope Benedict announced Feb. 11 that he would be resigning at the end of the month.

"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," the pope told cardinals gathered for an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints.

Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, will be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

He told the cardinals, "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, 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."

The pope has had increasingly trouble walking in the past year, often using a cane and always being assisted getting up and down steps. However, the Vatican has never released medical information that would make it appear the pope suffers from anything other than joint pain connected to his age.

The option of a pope to resign is explicitly written into the Code of Canon Law. It says a pope may step down, but stipulates that the decision must be made freely and "duly manifested."

Fulfilling the canonical requirement, Pope Benedict solemnly declared to the cardinals, "Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of St. 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 St. Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new supreme pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."

It is up to the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to make preparations for a conclave to elect a new pope.

Before ending his remarks, Pope Benedict told the cardinals, "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."

The pope made no mention of his future plans, other than to say, "I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

Pope Benedict's surprise announcement has stunned and shocked religious leaders around the world.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear of the pope's decision Feb. 11.

"I know that his decision will have been considered most carefully and that it has come after much prayer and reflection," Cardinal O'Brien said.

He offered prayers from the Scottish church for Pope Benedict "at this time of deterioration in his health as he recognizes his incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to him."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the pope's announcement "has shocked and surprised everyone."

"Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognize it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action," Archbishop Nichols said.

"The Holy Father recognizes the challenges facing the church and that 'strength of mind and body are necessary' for his tasks of governing the church and proclaiming the Gospel.

"I salute his courage and his decision," he added.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said he learned of Pope Benedict's resignation with a "heavy heart but complete understanding." He offered thanks for the pope's priestly life "utterly dedicated in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service to following Christ."

"He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity," Archbishop Welby said.

The Anglican archbishop credited the pope for his "witness to the universal scope of the Gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question." He cited Pope Benedict's teaching and writing for bringing a "remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day."

"We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict's ministry," Archbishop Welby added.

In Turkey, Msgr. Louis Pelatre, apostolic vicar of Istanbul, expressed surprise at Pope Benedict's the decision, telling Catholic News Service "no one expected this, even those very close to him. But we pray and go forward."

"It was his personal decision. No one can influence him. We are no longer in a world where one can stay in the same position if he no longer feels he is no longer capable of fulfilling his duties. He was very tired. We know that and we saw that," Msgr. Pelatre said.

Here is a translation of the text of Pope Benedict's resignation:

Dear brothers,

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 barque of St. 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 St. Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on April 19, 2005, in such a way, that as from Feb. 28, 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of St. 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.