The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down on Feb. 28. While such papal resignations are extremely rare, there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.
Marcellinus: This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor’s order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045.
Celestine V: Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after five months as pope in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his tomb in the central Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009.
Gregory XII: The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
ROME — Pope Benedict XVI, saying he no longer has the strength to lead the world’s 1 billion Catholics, will resign from the papacy at the end of the month, the first such abdication in almost 600 years
“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 today in an address to senior church officials in Rome.
Pope Benedict, the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, said his resignation would take effect at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. He will step down two months before his 86th birthday after serving for almost eight years as pontiff after succeeding John Paul II.
The resignation of Benedict may reopen rifts within the church as pressure builds to name a pope from the developing world where Catholicism is growing and offsetting declines in Europe and the United States.
The new pope will be chosen through a conclave, a special gathering of cardinals who are sequestered in Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they can agree on a successor.
Benedict will have no role in choosing his successor, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. The pope will initially retire to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo before transferring to live in a convent, Lombardi said.
Benedict will become the first pontiff to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the announcement took even senior church officials by surprise, Lombardi said.
A traditionalist, Benedict succeeded John Paul II on April 19, 2005, after spending a quarter century as the enforcer of doctrine in an office formerly known as the Inquisition. A bookish scholar, Benedict spent years penning by hand his philosophical take on the life of Jesus Christ in a three-volume book. He was an enemy of “moral relativism” and considered it his main job to resist the changes sweeping modern society.