Citing physical frailty Pope Benedict has resigned:
ROME (Reuters) – Pope Benedict surprised the world on Monday by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with the demands of his ministry, becoming the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages and leaving his aides “incredulous”.
The 85-year-old German-born Pope, hailed as a hero by conservative Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months.
A Vatican spokesman said the Pope had not resigned because of “difficulties in the papacy” and the decision had been a surprise, indicating that even his closest aides were unaware that he was about to quit. The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.
The text of the announcement is here. This is the meat of it:
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.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in the 15th century, six hundred years ago. Although I’m inclined to take this resignation at face value, it comes at a time that the church is wracked with guilt over the scandal of child sexual abuse by priests and that was concealed by higher-ups that has come to light in the United States and Europe.
I hope that the conclave that is to come is an opportunity for a self-examination of conscience on the part of those in attendance. The article cited above points to the various scandals that have come to light during Benedict’s reign as pope. I believe that the church hierarchy is having difficulty coming to terms with the modern world and the openness of that world. Although I recognize that he is much-beloved by many, both Catholics and non-Catholics, I think that John Paul II, Benedict’s predecessor, did enormous damage to the church. Much of the abuse and the concealing of the abuse took place on his watch. He made Opus Dei into a personal prelature. He slammed the door on the ordination of women. He appointed or promoted extremely conservative bishops, including Joseph Ratzinger whom he named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals, setting the stage for Cardinal Ratzinger’s election to the papacy. Pope John Paul II may have seen that as a return to the faith but the effect of it in the United States has been to drive many Catholics out of the church.