Pope Benedict, 85, announced on Monday that he is stepping down, saying that he no longer had the mental and physical strength to deal with papacy. The decision, which shocked the world, makes Pope Benedict the first pontiff to resign in the last 600 years.
He will step down at the end of this month, on February 28, while the new Pope will be chosen by the end of March.
The move surprised everyone, including the members of his close circle, but it did not come due to the “difficulties in the papacy”, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. “The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation,” he added.
“…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 Saint Peter,” the Pope told the cardinals, according to the international press.
The decision came after a series of incidents in the Catholic Church, such as child sexual abuse crises, one address in which Pope Benedict upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.
The last Pope known to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294, after he reigned for only five months. His resignation was known as “the great refusal” and was mentioned by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the “Divine Comedy”.