ROME — Citing advanced years and infirmity, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world on Monday by saying he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office, the first pope to do so in six centuries.
After examining his conscience “before God,” he said in a statement that reverberated around the world on the Internet and on social media, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.
A profoundly conservative figure whose papacy was overshadowed by clerical abuse scandals, Benedict, 85, was elected by fellow cardinals in 2005 after the death of John Paul II.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the pope would continue to carry out his duties until Feb. 28 and that a successor could be elected by Easter, which falls on March 31. But, he added, the timing for the election of a new pope is “not an announcement, it’s a hypothesis.”
While there had been questions about Benedict’s health, the timing of his announcement sent shock waves around the world, even though he had in the past endorsed the notion that an incapacitated pope could resign.
“The pope took us by surprise,” said Father Lombardi, who explained that many cardinals were in Rome on Monday for a ceremony at the Vatican and heard the pope’s address. Italy’s prime minister, Mario Monti, said he was “very shaken by the unexpected news.”
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