LONDON - Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI has resigned, effective at the end of the month. It is the first time a pope resigned in nearly 600 years.
Pope Benedict surprised a high-level church meeting at the Vatican with his announcement. According to a text published later, he told the gathering he believes that "in today's world" a pope must be strong enough to speak and engage in activities, and that his own health "has deteriorated" in recent months.
The pope, who is 85 years old, said he has "had to recognize" his "incapacity to adequately fulfill" his ministry. He said his "strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited" to the demands of the job. He said prayer and suffering are also part of a pope's duties, but those things alone are not sufficient.
Benedict's predecessor, Pope John-Paul II, died at age 85 in 2005, after several years during which his physical frailty limited his activities.
The current pope apparently wanted to avoid that, and also to send a message to his successors about the demands of the modern papacy, which involves global travel and almost daily meetings with officials and pilgrims from around the world.
Pope Benedict made his most recent public appearance Sunday, addressing a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the occasion of the Lunar New Year.
He spoke of what he called “the universal values” of “peace, harmony and gratitude to Heaven,” which he said are “desired by everyone to build their family, society and ... nation.”
The pope wished those celebrating “a happy and prosperous life.”
Pope Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in the town of Passau, Germany. He became a cardinal and Archbishop of Munich in 1977. Known for his conservative theological views, he became an advisor to Pope John Paul II five years later, and was elected pope after John Paul's death in 2005.
The Vatican says the pope's surprise resignation will trigger a series of events culminating next month in a conclave of the world's Roman Catholic cardinals. A spokesman said officials expect to have a new pope elected by Easter, which this year is on March 31.