In an unexpected and nearly unprecedented announcement, Pope Benedict XVI today declared that he will step down from his position effective 28 February 2013.
The 85-year-old pontiff cited advanced age and poor health as reasons for his resignation:
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 bark 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.
Fox News notes that 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.”
Pope Benedict’s unexpected announcement means that the Vatican must “hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed.” According to a Vatican spokesperson, Pope Benedict will not participate in this conclave.
The Guardian reminds that much of Benedict’s papacy has been dominated by sexual abuse scandals within the Roman Catholic Church.
The pope was himself affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly re-assigned to duties that, in time, allowed him to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people. Source
In the official statement released by the Vatican, Pope Benedict demonstrates one of many vital differences between the Roman Catholic Church and orthodox Christianity as he calls the church to trust not only Jesus Christ for future direction, but also to “implore his holy Mother Mary so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.”