In a move that will resonate through history, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, has resigned his office, effective February 28th. The Pope made the announcement at a routine meeting of cardinals gathered to consider three candidates for canonization.
Reading a statement in Latin, the 85-year-old Pope said, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. ... Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome.”
The German-born Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected Pope in 2005 after the death of his predecessor John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI is the first pontiff in over 600 years to give up the reins of authority and resign from the papacy.
A new pope will be elected in a conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals that will start in March.
President Barack Obama in a statement recalled meeting with Pope Benedict in 2009. “I have appreciated our work together over these last four years,” said Mr. Obama. “The church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.”
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry called Pope Benedict “a man of action and principle, working to promote human rights and dignity in places around the globe where they are too often denied, and a voice of clarity and conviction about our obligations as stewards of a fragile planet.”
Referencing a Mass he attended in Washington celebrated by the Pope five years ago, Mr. Kerry said Pope Benedict referred to Americans as “a people of hope” and to America as “a land of freedom and opportunity.”
“He believes, as we do,” said Secretary of State Kerry, “that the qualities that have made our nation strong can also help make the world freer and more just. We have been honored to work with the Holy See during the nearly eight years of his papacy and look forward to continued collaboration in areas of common interest to our country and to the Catholic Church. We wish Pope Benedict great peace and health and we will keep him in our prayers.”