Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI. Photograph by Kancelaria Prezydenta RP

Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he is to resign at the end of this month, saying that he is too old to continue at the age of 85, becoming the first Pope to volunteer his resignation in recent times. A source close to the Vatican is saying that the resignation may come as a result of the Pope, like his predecessor John Paul II, suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

In a statement, the Vatican have said that the timing of the resignation was more to “avoid that exhausting rush of Easter engagements” than any specific illness.

In a statement, he said:

“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…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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the head of the Catholic Church in 2005 following the death of 84 year old John Paul II. Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, was one of the oldest new Popes in history when he was elected at the age of 78.

The Pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, has said to news agency DPA that the decision to step down is one that the Pope had been considering for months after he was advised by his doctor that he should not take any more transatlantic trips, and he was having increasing difficulty walking.

The majority of Pontiffs of the modern era have died in office, but resignation is not unknown. Indeed, Pope Gregory XII (1406–1415) famously resigned in order to end the Western Schism within the Church. More recent Popes are also alleged to have written conditional letters of resignation, with Pop Pius XII drawing up a document stating that if he were kidnapped by the Nazis then that would be considered his resignation, and similarly Pope John Paul II wrote a letter of resignation in case he were to come down with an incurable disease and could not perform his duties.

Pope Benedict XVI has overseen one of the most scandalous periods in Catholic history as news broke of child sex abuse by Catholic priests around the world. Many have included Ratzinger in the blame of the cover-up of these abuses, as he did not inform authorities when he heard the stories of abuse when head Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – the Vatican office with responsibility for such matters, and instead asked members of the Church to keep quiet.

The full statement from the Pope on his resignation is below:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, 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 steer the boat 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil 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.

Here is the full declaration of resignation from Vatican Radio:

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