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Overnight, Pope Benedict XVI made the surprising announcement that he will resign at the end of the month. In his resignation letter, the 85-year-old pop cited poor health. He is the first pope to resign in six centuries.
The leader of the Roman Catholic church made the announcement during a meeting with cardinals in the Vatican, The Associated Press confirms. In his letter, the pope explained that his duties require “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 said. “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.”
He continued, noting that 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 barque 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.”
According to The New York Times, Pope Benedict took office in April 2005. He said that his tenure will end on Feb. 28.
Pope Benedict, a strict conservative, succeeded Pope John Paul II. When he was elected, Pope Benedict was 78, making him the oldest to take office in 300 years. He will be the first to resign from the office since 1415 when Pope Gregory XII did so.
A successor will be chosen by cardinals under the age of 80 in a secret election in the Sistine Chapel. Speculation within the church about who will follow Pope Benedict XVI has likely already started. The AP notes that some of the candidates may include Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna and the Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican office for bishops.
The election will be held at the end of March.