VATICAN CITY (AP/CBS13) – Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28 — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.
He emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“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,” he told the cardinals. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.
Catholic parishioners gather for mass in Woodland
“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 St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths 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 Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.
Benedict called his choice “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.”
The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
The Sacramento area is home to over 800,000 Catholics. CBS13 spoke with some who attended morning mass. They were surprised but voiced support for a beloved man they say worked hard.
“Sudden, very sudden,” said parishioner Margaret Simon. “I just heard it from a friend, I didn’t turn on the television this morning. They said, ‘did you hear?’ I said, ‘no, what do you mean?’”
“I think everyone has their time and only God knows that,” said Claudia Ezrre, who attended morning mass.
Rev. Msgr. James T. Murphy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento said it could be God’s will that a younger leader take the church’s top spot.
“Huge news for the church; caught us all by complete and total surprise,” said. “With the complexity of the world today, it’s more difficult a job. He probably feels at 85, he needs a younger man,” said Rev. Msgr. James T. Murphy.
“He certainly led us well and got a lot done during that time. And we love him to death and we wish him the very best, and look forward to our new leader,” said parishioner Anne Marks.
Pope Benedict’s retirement announcement also guided several parishioners to come to noon mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento to pray, their way to pay a small tribute to the pontiff.
“Tears shocked, but trusting in the Holy Spirit,” Sara Garcia said.
“He’s such an inspiration to me,” Yvonne King said. “He’s the great teacher. I just love him. I am going to miss him.”
The pope’s decision was met with respect from those he leads.
“My initial reaction was one of thinking it was a beautiful statement from the pope to recognize that this is the end of his own life as the pope and leader of our church,” said Father Michael O’Reilly, director of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
“If he’s having a hard time, taking care of that church and day-to-day operations, then perhaps the Holy Spirit has told him he needs to hand off his responsibility,” Joe Fiori of Sacramento said.
“If it’s a medical issue, then I don’t think it’s a problem because he needs rest and relaxation,” Flora Cabrera of Vacaville said.
Many local Catholics CBS13 spoke to Monday said they appreciate the work Pope Benedict has done in maintaining conservative values but they do worry that could change.
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“We have the problem of the new pope coming in,” King said. “We don’t know if the views are going to be different.”
Calvin Butler hopes the change leads to another first.
“It would be like an Obama situation,” he said. “A man of color has never had that position before.”
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