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Citing Health Reasons, Pope Benedict Announces He Will Resign

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Saying he no longer has the strength to exercise ministry over the universal church, Pope Benedict XVI announced Feb. 11, 2013, that he would be resigning at the end of the month.

"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," the pope told cardinals gathered for an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints.

Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, will be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

He told the cardinals, "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 St. 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."

The pope has had increasing trouble walking in the past year, often using a cane and always being assisted getting up and down steps. However, the Vatican has never released medical information that would make it appear the pope suffers from anything other than joint pain connected to his age.

The option of a pope to resign is explicitly written into the Code of Canon Law. It says a pope may step down, but stipulates that the decision must be made freely and "duly manifested."

Fulfilling the canonical requirement, Pope Benedict solemnly declared to the cardinals, "Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of St. 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 St. Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new supreme pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."

It is up to the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to make preparations for a conclave to elect a new pope.

Before ending his remarks, Pope Benedict told the cardinals, "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."

The pope made no mention of his future plans, other than to say, "I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

U.S. Catholic Church leaders who awoke to the news of Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will retire at the end of February said they were surprised by the news but admired the pontiff's courage and humility for making the decision.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the pope's announcement "is but another sign of his great care for the church."

"The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with his God in all he did," the cardinal said, adding: "We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter.”

In Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George echoed his fellow U.S. prelates in saying the pontiff always has put "the will of God for the good of the church before every other consideration" and "that same resoluteness of purpose" is evident in his decision to resign.

Pope Benedict "has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ; he has handed on the apostolic faith; he has loved all of God's people with all his heart," the cardinal said in a statement. "He has now shown great courage in deciding, after prayer and soul-searching, to resign his office."

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, requested prayers for the Holy Father and for the Church. “With the announcement this morning by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, we join in thanksgiving to our Supreme Pastor, Jesus Christ, for the gift of our Holy Father’s life and ministry as Peter for the Church throughout the world,” Bishop Burbidge said. “In this moment, we unite in our prayer for him and also for the universal Church, that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord will provide a Shepherd of His own Heart, not only for the flock of those who already belong to Him, but also those seeking Him and those who do not yet know Him.”

The Bishop also asked pastors to include the following in the Prayers of the Faithful this Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent: “For our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that at this time in his life and ministry, the Lord may bestow abundantly on him His care and grace; and for the Church, that the Holy Spirit may strengthen Her and enlighten and guide those who will convene to elect our next Pope, we pray to the Lord.”

Text of the Holy Father’s Remarks

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Here is the Vatican's English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation remarks, delivered in Latin, during an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints Feb. 11.

Dear brothers,

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 barque 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,

Feb. 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI