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Pope Benedict is to step down as head of the Roman Catholic Church on February the 28th.
In an entirely unexpected development Pope Benedict XVI has announced he's stepping down as head of over one billion Catholics worldwide.
The 85-year-old revealed his decision to resign during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning. The 28th February will be his last day in office. A statement from the Pontiff was released via Vatican Radio, the broadcasting station of the Holy See. He said that because of his age and diminishing strength, he didn't feel he could carry on.
The full text of the Pope's resignation statement:
"Dear Brothers, I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.
"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.
"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 fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
"Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.
"And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
"With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
The Prime Minister David Cameron has released a statement.
"I send my best wishes to Pope Benedict following his announcement today.
"He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See.
"His visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection.
"He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions."
Former Conservative MP and Catholic Ann Widdecombe who was recently made a Dame by the Pope has also given her reaction to the Pontiff's decision to Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour:
The leader of English and Welsh Catholics has given his response.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said:
"Pope Benedict’s announcement today has shocked and surprised everyone.
"Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action.
"The Holy Father recognises the challenges facing the Church and that “strength of mind and body are necessary” for his tasks of governing the Church and proclaiming the Gospel.
"I salute his courage and his decision.
"I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers.
"We Catholics will do so, with great affection and the highest esteem for his ministry as our Holy Father remembering with joy his Visit to the United Kingdom in 2010.
"Pray, too, for the Church and all the steps that must take place in the next weeks.
"We entrust ourselves to the loving Providence of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
At 78, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when elected. He took the helm as one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades - the scandal of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking.
Father Stephen Wang from the Catholic Church in England and Wales has told the News Hour on Premier that Pope Benedict dealt with the Church's child sex abuse scandal appropriately:
A statement from Cardinal Keith O’Brien said:
"Like many people throughout the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign.
"I know that his decision will have been considered most carefully and that it has come after much prayer and reflection.
"I will offer my prayers for Pope Benedict and call on the Catholic community of Scotland to join me in praying for him at this time of deterioration in his health as he recognises his incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to him.
"I hope I will also be able to rely on the prayers of Catholics across the world for the Cardinal Electors as we prepare to travel to Rome in order to participate in the conclave, which will be convoked to elect a successor as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff."
Charles Whitehead is the Chairman of the International Charismatic Consultation and a past President of International Catholic Renewal. He tells Premier's Marcus Jones he was shocked by the announcement.
Peter Williams is a writer and a spokesman for the group Catholic Voices. He tells Premier the life of his predecessor may have been playing on his mind.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's paid tribute.
Most Revd Justin Welby said: "It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage.
"As I prepare to take up office I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ.
"He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity.
"In his visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict showed us all something of what the vocation of the See of Rome can mean in practice – a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question.
"In his teaching and writing he has brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day.
"We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s ministry.
"We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart, and we entrust to the Holy Spirit those who have a responsibility to elect his successor."
Father James Cassidy is Premier's Catholic Commentator.
He told Victoria Laurence on the News Hour the Pontiff is following in the footsteps of Anglican leader Dr Rowan Williams:
The Methodist Church has also paid tribute.
The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist Conference, said:
"We were shocked to hear of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, which must have been a difficult decision to make.
"We thank God for his ministry, and for the significant work we share with Roman Catholics worldwide in the name of the Gospel.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters at this time. We pray for Pope Benedict and for those involved in choosing his successor."
Edward Pentin is a correspondent for the Catholic Herald.
He said there have been rumours for some time: "He did say about 18 months ago in an interview that he wouldn't resign because of the difficulties and challenges currently facing the Church, particularly with the sexual abuse scandal.
"That has died down a little since then, so he may feel that he is OK to step down." Meanwhile the Archbishop of York has tweeted a tribute to the Pontiff.
Dr John Sentamu said: "@Pontifex The Christian world will miss a great theologian with great spiritual depth."
Speaking to Maria Rodrigues-Toth on Premier's Woman to Woman following the announcment was Jack Valero from Catholic group Opus Dei:
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed the Pontiff will step down on February 28th at 8pm Rome time.
The Vatican says it expects the period between the Pope's resignation and the election of his successor to be as brief as possible, but there has been no confirmation on when cardinals will meet to choose a new pontiff.
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