Pope Benedict XVI is to resign for reasons relating to his health, according to a Vatican spokesperson. He’s the first head of the Catholic Church to quit the highest post since the Middle Ages.
The 85 year old is due to step down on February the 28th. The Pope said he is â€œfully aware of the gravity of this gestureâ€ but that he lacks the strength to govern Church due to age, according to Vatican’s spokesperson Federico Lombardi.
In a statement released by the Catholic Church, Benedict VXI said that â€œafter 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.â€
A Vatican official says they expect the period between Benedict’s resignation and the election of a successor to be â€œas brief as possible,â€ according to Reuters news agency. However, his resignation means that the Papacy will be vacant until a successor is chosen. A Vatican spokesman said that the Pope “took us by surprise”, suggesting that even his closest aides had not previously been informed of the decision.
A conclave of cardinals will meet in March 2013, to elect a new pope after his departure.
In 2010, the 265th Pope said that he would not hesitate to become the first pontiff to retire willingly from his position in more than 700 years, if he felt himself unable, â€œphysically, psychologically and spirituallyâ€ to run the Catholic Church any longer.
The last time a pope resigned was in 1415.Back then Pope Gregory XII pronounced the resignation, which the cardinals accepted. However, the last time a Pope resigned voluntarily, was Celestine V in 1294.
Pope Benedict XVI has been in office since 19 April 2005.
Since his assumption of the title, he has been embroiled in the â€˜Vatileaksâ€™ scandal, in which his former butler was accused of stealing confidential information, and leaking it to journalists. The leaked data, which surfaced in January 2012, contained detailed exposes of the institution, revealing the power struggles, factional fighting and personal finances of the Papacy.
Israelâ€™s chief Rabbi has praised the Pope’s inter-religious outreach, and has wished him good health, according to a spokesman. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is also expected to respond to the news later today.