By Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Saying he no longer has the
strength to exercise ministry over the universal church, Pope Benedict XVI
announced Feb. 11 that he would be resigning at the end of the month after an
"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 more than 600 years.
Q&A ON THE PAPAL TRANSITIONHe 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."
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican
spokesman, told journalists at a briefing that the pope's decision was not
prompted by any medical illness, but was due to a natural "decline of strength"
associated with old age.
Even though the announcement had caught almost everybody by
surprise, it was not a snap decision, but rather one that "had matured
over the past few months," Father Lombardi said.
The pope made his
announcement in Latin from a pre-written text during a morning ordinary public
consistory where a large number of cardinals were present.
When he delivered his
announcement, the pope seemed very "composed, concentrated" and read
"in a solemn manner" in keeping with the importance of what he was
saying, Father Lombardi said.
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. Pope Benedict and Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the opening prayer of the 2012 synod on the new evangelization at the Vatican. CNS Photo/Paul Haring..
Father Lombardi said
after the pope steps down, he will move to the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo
outside of Rome. He will stay there until the renovation is completed of a
cloister, set up by Blessed John Paul II, which is located inside the Vatican
Gardens, he said.
The pope will then
live in the cloister, called the Mater Ecclesia monastery, and dedicate his
time to prayer and reflection, the Vatican spokesman said.
It was likely the
pope would keep writing, he added, since the pope has mentioned many times that
he has wanted to spend more time dedicated to study and prayer.
When asked if there
would be any confusion over leadership or a schism were a possibility, Father
Lombardi said he believes the pope "had no fear of this" happening
because he clearly demonstrated his desire to step down and no longer be pope
or retain any papal authority.
"I think in no
way is there any risk of confusion or division" in this respect, he said.
The pope, who is past
the age allowed a cardinal to vote for a new pope, will obviously not be part
of the conclave that will convene to elect his successor, he added.
He is not likely to
play any role in the "interregnum" or time between popes because
"there is no role for a predecessor pope" during this period, the
The Jesuit priest
said a "sede vacante" usually lasts less than a month, and that it
was more than likely a new pope would be elected in time to lead the full schedule
of Holy Week and Easter liturgies.
Cardinal Sodano, who
was one of the many cardinals present during the pope's announcement, addressed
the pope, telling him the news left them with "a sense of loss, almost
However, it was
obvious that his decision was based on a "great affection" for the
well-being of the church, the cardinal said.
Father Lombardi said
being a pope today is "much more fast-moving, more demanding" than it
was in the past with an almost nonstop full schedule of public and private
events and liturgical celebrations.
When asked why the
pope chose Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as the day to announce
his stepping down, Father Lombardi said most likely the date was a coincidence,
and that the pope instead chose an event -- the ordinary public consistory --
where a large number of cardinals would be present.
"The pope chose
this significant occasion with the gathered cardinals" as the best moment
to announce his plans, the Vatican spokesman said.
When asked whether
the pope had any medical illnesses or bouts of depression that may have
prompted his resignation, Father Lombardi said the pope was "absolutely
not" depressed and possessed a remarkable "spiritual serenity"
and composure despite the many difficult moments he has had to face as pope.
The Vatican spokesman
also said he was not aware of any medical illness that would have caused the
pope to step down, rather it was due to a "normal" deterioration of
physical and mental strength that comes with old age.
The pope has
increasingly had 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." No one needs to formally accept a pope's resignation for it to
The last pope to
resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Pope Benedict had
long said it would be appropriate for a pope to resign for the good of the
church if the pontiff felt he were unable to physically bear the burden of the
In his book-length
interview, "The Light of the World," with German journalist Peter
Seewald, the pope said, "If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer
physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of
his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an
obligation to resign."
The pope told the
author that it was important, however, that the pope "must not run
away" and "must stand fast and endure" any difficult situations
that are facing the church. For that reason, he was not thinking of resigning
in 2010 -- the year the interviews were conducted.
"One can resign
at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on," the pope had said.
Before ending his
remarks during the consistory, 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 said,
"I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future
through a life dedicated to prayer."
Father Lombardi said
he felt "great admiration" for the pope's "great courage"
and "freedom of spirit" in making this decision. The spokesman said
it shows the pope is not only fully aware of the great responsibilities involved
in leading the universal church, but his hopes that "the ministry of the
church be carried out the best way" possible.Copyright (c) 2013 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of