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Pope Benedict XVI has shocked the world by announcing that he will relinquish the papacy at the end of the month.
Benedict made his historic announcement at a consistory that was held to approve the canonization of three new saints. In a faltering voice, he read a statement in Latin to the assembled cardinals.
“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 said.
Benedict stated that governing the church required one had to be strong in both mind and body. But since he had come to feel increasingly infirm, it was important that he step down and let someone with a stronger constitution take over.
As required by canon law, Benedict announced that he made his resignation with “full freedom.” And in display of German meticulousness, he also declared that he would “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.”
Benedict concluded his statement by announcing that he planned to continue serving the church through a life dedicated to prayer.
Although Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops are expected to retire at 75, the pope traditionally holds office for life. Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, remained in office despite suffering from a variety of debilitating ailments. But over the centuries, a handful of popes have chosen to step down. Gregory XII resigned in 1415 in order to end the Great Schism, a decades-long ecclesiastical civil war that saw multiple popes in office at the same time. Over a century earlier, Celestine V stepped down after a reign of only five months when he became disillusioned with the nature of the papacy. Hopefully, Benedict’s post-papal life will be more congenial than that of Celestine, who was imprisoned in the castle of Fumone by his successor.
The full text of Benedict’s announcement can be found here.
Image Courtesy : Catholic Church (England and Wales)