The Vatican has announced that German born Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28. Benedict will be the first pope to step down from the papacy in centuries.
The pope is reported to be stepping down because he feels his age is interfering with his ability to perform the job. He is 85 years old.
The vast majority of popes serve until they die, and they stick it out despite their ill health. The last pope to resign voluntarily was Pope Gregory XII, in 1415. Prior to that, Pope Benedict IX resigned from the post in 1045.
Benedict’s decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March, and opens the door to widespread speculation among Roman Catholics about his possible successor.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the Pope made his announcement in Latin during a special meeting with senior cardinals. Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, described the announcement as “a lighting bolt from the clear blue sky.”
The pope apparently told his subordinates: “After repeatedly examining my conscience in front of God I have reached the conclusion that my strengths – because of advanced age – mean I am no longer able to exercise adequately the [role of Pope].”
Two Italian newspapers ran quotes from the Pope stating that he “felt the weight of the task” and had decided to step down “for the good the Church”.
The Independent revealed there have been rumors over the past few months that the Pope’s health has been failing and that he was struggling to read texts. Benedict has previously stated that Popes who are unable to do their job because of ill health should step down.
During a visit to an old age home in November the Pope spoke about getting older.
He said that while it was “beautiful to be old,” age brought challenges and difficulties with which he himself was familiar.
“I know well the difficulties, the problems and the limits of this age, and I know that these difficulties are aggravated for many people by the economic crisis,” he said.
“But I want to say to you with profound conviction – it is beautiful to be old!”