Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday he will be stepping down from his position at the end of the month, citing advanced age and health concerns. The news comes two days before Ash Wednesday, the start of the church’s Lenten season.
“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,” said Pope Benedict XVI in a statement from the Vatican.
During a meeting of Vatican cardinals, the pope, 85, announced his decision in Latin to resign from the Papacy. When he was elected in 2005, he was already the oldest pontiff to be elected in nearly 300 years, according to CBS News.
“I admire the pope’s courage in resigning most especially as it has been so long since this happened in history. It is a very big deal in terms of who will become our next pope. This person will have a huge effect on the direction of the entire Roman Catholic church, and this has implications that go beyond even our church,” said Donal Godfrey, S.J., the University Ministry associate director for faculty and staff spirituality.
The 265th pope will be the first to resign since 1415, when Pope Gregory XII left his position in an attempt to end the Western Schism during which three rival popes claimed the title.
Cardinals will meet in Rome to choose a successor shortly after his departure, which is scheduled to be on February 28, said Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, at a news conference. Lombardi said they will have a new pope before Easter, March 31.
After Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will be addressed as his eminence, or Cardinal Benedict XVI. He is spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, according to the 2012 Annuario Pontificio, the annual yearbook of the Roman Catholic Church.