Pope Benedict XVI announced early Monday his intention to step down from the Roman Catholic Church’s highest office by the end of the month. He cited his advancing age — he is 85 years old — and bad health as his reasons for his resignation. He is the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
At the age of 78, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was annointed the 265th successor to St. Peter as bishop of Rome April 19, 2005. As Pope Benedict XVI, he was the first pope of German descent in 1000 years and the first pope to use Twitter. His eight-year term has been riddled with controversy as well, including his handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests, statements made about Muslims in 2006, and the Vatileaks controversy.
Pope Benedict XVI supported many of the sweeping reforms made by the Second Vatican Council of 1962 that opened up the Catholic Church to embrace concepts such as human rights, democracy and freedom of religion.
Graphics and research by Elizabeth Shell, Vanessa Dennis, Travis Daub and Joshua Barajas.
Here is Pope Benedict XVI’s statement in-full:
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 barque 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.
PBS NewsHour’s Coverage of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican from 2005-2013:
September 2012: Pope in Lebanon: ‘Love One Another’
Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon with a message to young people to “love one another” and reject violence. His comments came in the wake of demonstrations partly inflamed by a U.S.-made Internet film mocking Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed.
October 2012: Witnesses Testify Against Pope’s Butler Who Stole, Leaked Papal Documents
Paolo Gabriele, former butler of Pope Benedict XVI, appeared in Vatican Court on trial for stealing confidential papers and leaking them to the press.
Related Content: Vatican Tries to Distance Itself from Scandal, ‘Sensitive’ Leaked Documents
May 2012: Pope’s Butler to Cooperate in Vatican Scandal Inquiry
The Vatican scandal deepened Monday when the pope’s butler, arrested for allegedly releasing confidential documents, said he would cooperate with a Vatican criminal investigation.
April 2012: Vatican Rebuke: Are U.S. Nuns Promoting ‘Radical Feminist Themes?’
A Vatican report criticized the largest group of U.S. Catholic nuns — the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — for promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
March 2012: What Did Castros Want out of Pope’s Cuba Visit?
Pope Benedict travelled to Cuba to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro. There, he called for greater freedom for the Roman Catholic Church, the closest that the pope has come to criticizing the Cuban regime.
July 2011: Rift Grows Between Ireland, Vatican Over Priest Abuse Allegations
The breach between the Vatican and Ireland grew even wider when the Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, for his handling of sexual-abuse claims against Irish priests.
May 2011: Vatican Holds Line on Condoms at Conference At an AIDS conference hosted at the Vatican, the Catholic Church quickly stamped out any lingering speculation that the Church might shift or broaden its policy against use of condoms to protect from HIV.
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September 2010: Pope Begins U.K. Visit Amid Uproar Over Abuse Scandal The Pope began a visit to Britain with his strongest admission about how the Catholic Church failed to deal decisively with sexual abuse by priests.
May 2010: – Pope Addresses Abuse Scandal, Says Church Must ‘Relearn Penance’
Pope Benedict XVI issued his strongest words to date about the abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church saying the institution, “has a profound need to relearn penance.”
April 2010: Cardinal Levada: ‘We Should Hold Ourselves to a Higher Standard’
Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, the office that handles sex abuse claims against the Church, spoke to Margaret Warner in his first television interview about the scandal.
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April 2010: Pope: Church Weathers ‘Times of Difficulty’ Over Abuse Scandal
Related Analysis: Amid Scandal, Examining the Vatican’s Response
March 2010: Abuse Allegations Intensify in Catholic Church Allegations that Pope Benedict and other church leaders covered up sexual abuse cases, including those at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, continue to rock the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI spoke out about the child abuse scandals that have riled Catholics in Ireland and Germany.
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May 2009: Pope Benedict XVI Arrives in Middle East for Five-Day Visit Pope Benedict XVI launched the second leg of a closely-watched trip to the Middle East with a visit to Israel’s Holocaust memorial where he said victims of the genocide “lost their lives but they will never lose their names.”
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February 2009: Vatican Orders Bishop to Recant Holocaust Denial After encountering international criticism, the Vatican has demanded that a bishop whose excommunication was lifted last month by Pope Benedict XVI recant his denial of the Holocaust.
January 2009: Pope Draws Criticism for Pardoning Bishop Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson, who made comments denying the full extent of the Holocaust and the existence of gas chambers during World War II, has drawn sharp criticism.
April 2008: Pope Benedict Urges Respect for Human Rights at UN Pope Benedict XVI spoke at the United Nations, saying respect for human rights should be the focus of international cooperation, but warning “multilateral consensus” was “subordinated to the decisions of a small number.”
- April 2008: Pope Benedict Says Church, American Society at a ‘Crossroads’ Pope Benedict XVI held mass before a crowd of some 45,000 worshipers at the Washington Nationals Park where he addressed the challenges facing American Catholics.
April 2008: Pope Visits White House, Compliments U.S. Generosity Pope Benedict XVI visited the White House Wednesday, welcomed by President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.
Related Content: Papal Visit Prompts Reflection on U.S. Catholic Identity
November 2006: Pope Visits Religious Sites in Turkey Pope Benedict XVI visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, becoming the second pope to enter a Muslim place of worship. He praised Islam stating that he believed Islam was a religion of peace, hoping to soothe tension after his controversial remarks about Islam.
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September 2006: Pope’s Comments on Islam Incite Outrage and Protest Pope Benedict XVI’s comments that link Islam and the Prophet Muhammad to violence sparked protest and criticism from the Muslim world.
November 2005: Vatican Bans Homosexuals A directive released by the Vatican Tuesday banned practicing homosexuals, men with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies and those who support gay culture from entering the Catholic priesthood.
April 2005: Pope Faces Challenges in Asia, Latin America Two experts on Catholicism and religion in Asia and Latin America discuss the challenges Pope Benedict XVI faces within the American Catholic Church and in the developing world.
April 2005: Pope Benedict XVI Pledges Unity Among Christians and Other Faiths Pope Benedict XVI pledged Wednesday to work toward unity among Christians and dialogue with other faiths. A discussion on the challenges facing the new pope.
April 2005: Pope Benedict XVI Will Face Similar Challenges as John Paul II Pope Benedict XVI was expected to face many of the same challenges as his friend and predecessor John Paul II, including sex abuse scandals, controversial policies on women and gay people, and declining church membership.
- April 2005: The College of Cardinals Elect Joseph Ratzinger the New Pope After one of the shortest conclaves in a century, cardinals elected German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a noted conservative within the Catholic church, as the 265th pope Tuesday.
Related Content: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Elevated to Pope Benedict XVI
The Associated Press: A timeline of Pope Benedict XVI’s life.
National Catholic Reporter: “Can a pope resign?“