Pope to quit on 28th; first pontiff to resign in 600 years
VATICAN CITY, Feb 11: Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday he would resign due to old age, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to step down because he could no longer fulfil his duties, in a move that stunned the world.
The German-born leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics said he would resign on Feb 28 after just eight years as pope, making his one of the shortest pontificates in modern history.
The 85-year-old pontiff made the announcement in a speech in Latin at a meeting with world cardinals at his residence in the Apostolic Palace, dressed in red vestments and with his voice barely audible as he read a written text.
“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.
As tributes poured in from across the world, the Vatican emphasised that the former Joseph Ratzinger was not resigning due to any illness, following speculation over his frail appearance at recent ceremonies.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he expected a conclave of cardinals to be held in March within 15 or 20 days of the resignation and a new pope elected before Easter Sunday on March 31.
“The pope caught us a bit by surprise,” Mr Lombardi said at a hastily-arranged press conference.
Pope Benedict’s brother Georg Ratzinger said he had known “for a few months” that he was planning to resign and was “feeling the burden of his age.” “It is a positive thing that he is handing over the office to younger hands,” he added.
Some faithful said they hoped the move would signal a major change for the Church after a conservative pontificate that has been marred by scandals, including most notably clerical child abuse.
Vatican observers have already begun speculating over who could succeed Pope Benedict, with online betters tipping an African pope as the most likely.
But some say the number of cardinals from Europe and North America who can vote for a new pope — 76 out of 118 — could sway the choice to a western state.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel led tributes from political and religious leaders across the globe, hailing the outgoing pope as “one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time”.
US President Barack Obama offered “our appreciation and prayers” on behalf of all Americans. Justin Welby, leader of the world’s Anglicans, said he understood “with a heavy heart” Benedict’s decision, and that he had held his office with “great dignity, insight and courage”.—AFP