|His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI|
He will step down on 28 February at 8.00pm Roman time. At that point we will no longer have a Pope -- Joseph Ratzinger will at that point become Bishop Emeritus of Rome. A Conclave will be called and a new Supreme Pontiff elected. Benedict XVI himself will live out the rest of his life in cloistered seclusion within the walls of the Vatican.
Here is the full text of the Pope's declaration, as found on Vatican Radio, which he made to Cardinals gathered in Rome for some planned canonisations: -
Dear Brothers,According to news reports, it seems that no-one was expecting this announcement at this moment in time -- not even Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, the Pope's own spokesman. Having said that, Benedict XVI had raised the possibility of his own retirement in his interviews with Peter Seewald, published as Light of the World in 2010.
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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. 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, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
It has been obvious for some time that Benedict XVI is unwell. He seems jaundiced and has also lost a considerable amount of weight in recent months. During his liturgies he has had to be wheeled from one place to another -- a humiliation his predecessor also endured during the last years of his life.
On the one hand, I admire the Pope for having taken this decision. He has done so, I believe, for the good of the Church. He has also set an example to those who succeed him -- better to resign than have a Pontiff who is unable to effectively govern the universal Church. It is a brave and courageous move on his part, it is also a gracious and truly humble act.
On the other hand, we have not witnessed the abdication of a Pope since the resignation of Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Before that, Pope St Celestine V abdicated in the 13th century. Apparently, Pope Pius XII was ready to resign if he had been taken prisoner by the Nazis during World War II. But for many Catholics it is unthinkable for the Successor of St Peter to walk away from Rome... and the Church which has been entrusted to him by God. Where will he go if he ends up deciding to leave the Vatican, what will he do? That well-known question comes to mind, "Quo vadis?"
Many people are going to feel saddened and shocked by this decision by Pope Benedict XVI, whilst some will also feel hurt or abandoned. The Church is going to begin the holy season of Lent in a state of confusion and angst. Yet, Benedict XVI will very much be in our prayers at this time -- he is a very holy and humble leader, and we are grateful to God for his ministry.
Although I don't know what to make of this extraordinary decision by Pope Benedict XVI, I do respect him for having the courage and wisdom to make it. Let's just hope, though, that this is not going to set a precedent -- the Pope is not an Archbishop of Canterbury nor is he the leader of some other Protestant or religious movement; he is the Successor of St Peter and the Vicar of Jesus Christ!
Prayer for the Pope
O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Pope Benedict XVI, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
UPDATE (2.50pm GMT)
Someone contacted me earlier to remind me of this post which I wrote exactly one year ago to the date Pope Benedict XVI wrote his resignation speech (yesterday, 10 February).
The post was called "'Within twelve months the Pope will die' -- What are we to make of these alleged words of Cardinal Paolo Romeo?"
Of course, the Pope hasn't died, but it's strange (probably just a coincidence) that he announced his resignation twelve months after those words were made known. New popes are usually only elected after the death of a pope -- so, a papal resignation is a type of 'death' and many millions of Catholics will be in a sort of mourning for Benedict XVI
I'm not given to conspiracy theories ... But thought I'd point out that strange little post.