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Pope Benedict XVI to resign at month's end, Vatican says

Pope Benedict XVI will step down on February 28 because he lacks the strength to continue performing his official duties, a Vatican statement announced on Monday.


Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on February 28 -- the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years -- setting the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

A Vatican official said the Holy See hopes the period between the pope's resignation and the election of a successor will be "as brief as possible".

'The Pope took us by surprise'

The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning, emphasising that carrying out the official duties of being pope 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.”

The pope continued, saying that in today’s world, which is “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, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me”.

Profile: Pope Benedict XVI

French President François Hollande called the decision “highly respectable” upon hearing the news.

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.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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