Declaring that his "strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI made the startling announcement Monday that he will be abdicating his post on Feb. 28.
This marks the first time in nearly six centuries that a pope has resigned. The Associated Press reported from Vatican City that a new pope is expected to be elected before the end of March.
The pontiff confessed in Latin in Monday's surprise announcement that the duty of being the leader for the more than one billion Catholics worldwide who count on him for spiritual guidance is something that requires a higher degree of "both strength of mind and body" than what he feels he personally possesses.
The Pope continued that these strengths with which he had been imbued for the majority of his life have "deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
Explaining that he deeply feels his decision to be one of "great importance for the life of the church," Pope Benedict follows forebear Pope Gregory XII, the last person to step away from the revered stewardship. Gregory had done so in 1415 as a means to ending the Great Schism that resulted from three persons claiming rightful ownership of the position at once.
The Associated Press reported that despite there being several potential candidates for the position, there has yet to emerge an "obvious front-runner."
Born on April 16, 1927, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI on April 15, 2005. Reputed to be the successor to Saint Peter the Apostle, Benedict is the 265th person to serve as Vatican City Sovereign and leader of the Catholic people.
He succeeded Pope John Paul II, who died at age 84 on April 2, 2005. John Paul II served as pope for 26 years, though he did suffer from Parkinson's disease as of 2001, something that was not publicly announced by the Vatican until 2003.
The Parkinson's disease did lead Pope John Paul II to have some semblance of aphasia as well as trouble with other basic functions such as hearing and walking.