Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of this month after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church, saying he is too old to continue at the age of 85.
The unexpected development – the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years – surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even his closest aides according to the BBC.
The Vatican says it expects a new Pope to be elected before Easter.
The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says the news has come “out of the blue”, and that there was no speculation whatsoever about the move in recent days.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he was “greatly shaken by this unexpected news”.
A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told the BBC that even the Pope’s closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left “incredulous”. He added that the decision showed “great courage” and “determination”.
However, the brother of the German-born Pope said the pontiff had considering stepping down for months.
Talking with the BBC from his home in Regensburg in Germany, Georg Ratzinger said his brother was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a “natural process” adding, “His age is weighing on him. At this age my brother wants more rest.”
Israel’s Chief Rabbi lauds Pope and Vatican-Israel ties
Following the announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation on Monday, Israeli chief rabbi Yona Metzger praised his inter-religious outreach and said relations between Israel and the Vatican had never been better.
“During his period (as pope) there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue,” a spokesman quoted Metzger as saying after the pope announced he would resign. “I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
Metzger wished the pope “good health and long days”, the spokesman said.
Official Statement, in part ,posted on the Vatican web site:
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.