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Why are you surprised?
He told us he was going to resign if his health or abilities failed, when he was elected, and again just a couple years ago:
‘‘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,’’ Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, 2010
He, better than most, knows the effect on the church and the Roman curia by the long, lingering illness of a bishop of Rome.
He is 85, and his pontificate has been nearly 8 years – almost exactly the length of the average pontificate over the last 2000 years.
He is a better theologian than any pope we have had in centuries, and knows well that, like all bishops, he can resign. And like all bishops, you do the same thing with a retired pope that you do with a retired bishop – it is not such a problem.
He knows the history of the papacy, that includes some obvious cases of papal resignation (St. Pontian, Benedict IX, Gregory VI, Clement V, Gregory XII), and several others who have been removed. Nearly 10% of all popes did not serve until death, if I remember correctly.
He is also an unquestionable champion of Catholic identity, culture and orthodoxy, so no one can claim that only a “liberal” or “reformer” pope would do this, as Paul VI had contemplated doing during his pontificate.
And above all he is a man of integrity and courage, who has done what is right in the face of pressure to simply conform to unrealistic expectations. He is not resigning because of disgrace or failure, he is retiring because it is the right thing to do for the Church, and for himself.
I think I have never been so proud of a pope in a lifetime of loving the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. Below please find his announcement.
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 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 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.
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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI