The first to do so in 600 years.
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he will step down on Feb. 28 due to failing health, stunning the world’s 1 billion Catholics by becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the office.
The German pontiff, 85, made his surprise statement to cardinals during a Vatican concistory on Monday, saying “my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” a reference to his duties as leader of the church.
Speaking at a ceremony held to canonize three new saints, Benedict said he would step down at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said a conclave of cardinals would be held in March to elect a new pope in time for Easter.
Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, said Benedict’s announcement was a “bolt out of the blue.”
Describing his decision as being “of great importance for the life of the church,” Benedict told cardinals that “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.”
His strength, he added, “has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Vatican insiders have noted that Benedict has become more frail in recent months; he requires a moving platform to transport him down the aisle at St Peter’s Basilica during services and has slowed during his walks in the Vatican gardens. His private life was recently exposed to public scrutiny after his butler was convicted by a Vatican court for leaking papal correspondence.
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