Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that he planned to step down at the end of this month because of his deteriorating physical strength, a move that hasn't happened in the Roman Catholic Church in centuries and that is likely to pave the way for a new pontiff by Easter.
Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign the Papacy Feb. 28, citing his "advanced age" and weakening strengths. WSJ's Rome bureau chief Alessandra Galloni and author Thomas Groome look ahead to what's next for the Vatican.
In a speech in Latin to cardinals, the 85-year-old German pontiff, who has been in office since April 2005, said that leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics was a job that required strength of both mind and body. But the pope said that his strength had "deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
A papal spokesman added during a briefing with reporters that Pope Benedict had been thinking about the move for some time, saying it wasn't due to an illness. Father Lombardi, the spokesman, said the pope would retire to a life of prayer and writing. He also said the pontiff had "no fear" of any potential schism in the church as a consequence of the pope's resignation.
The surprise resignation, which the Vatican said would take place as of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, will give way to a conclave, a gathering of cardinals who will elect the new pope. Normally, after a pope dies, there is a nine-day mourning period before the selection his successor. This time, the process can begin right away, said Greg Burke, the Vatican's media adviser. "This means we'll have a new pope by Easter," he added. The holiday falls on March 31 this year.
I remember sitting in front of the television watching the white smoke over St. Peter's in 2005. This time my girls are old enough to remember, and we'll be glued to the computer. (So much for reducing screen time for Lent!)
Now I know what I'm talking about in religion class next week!