ANSA, LA STAMPA, VATICAN RADIO (Italy)
ROME- Pope Benedict XVI stunned his Church and the world at large, by announcing that he will resign from the papacy on February 28. He made the announcement himself, in Latin, during Monday morning's consistory for the canonization of martyrs of Otranto, victims of a massacre in 1480. He will be the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
The Pope, who will turn 86 in April, included the announcement during what otherwise would have been a typical Vatican ceremony. "I 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.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed that the 85-year-old pontiff's energy had noticeably diminished in the past few months. Italian news agency ANSA, which first reported the news, said there will be a conclave to elect a successor to begin after 8 p.m. on February 28, when Benedict indicated that his term will end. Some Church observers have predicted that the next Pope will be the first pontiff from outside of Europe.
According to La Stampa, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, called the decision "A bolt from the blue." The possibility of a waiver, provided by the canonical code, had been cited by Benedict XVI in an interview with Peter Seewald for his book "Light of the World", published in November 2010: "When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness of not being physically able, mentally and spiritually to carry out the task entrusted to him then has the right and in certain circumstances even the duty to resign."
Vatican Radio has released the full text of Benedict's statement of resignation:
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 fulfill 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.
According to Canonic documents, says Wikipedia, the word abdication is not used, but resignation. Resigning from the papacy is highly unusual but not unheard of. It was reported that Pope John Paul II had written a letter of resignation in case he were to develop an incurable disease or if anything happened that could keep him from fulfilling his duties.
The best known example of the resignation of a Pope is that of Pope Celestine V in 1294. After only five months, he issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a Pope to resign and then did so himself. He lived two more years as a hermit and was later canonized. The Papal decree that he issued ended any doubt among canonists about the possibility of a valid Papal resignation. The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII, who did so to end the Western Schism in 1415.
See here for signs of the Pope's current physical condition, a video from Sunday's Angelus from St. Peter's Square: