The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI have made the announcement that the Pope is resigning.
Citing poor health and loss of strength due to old age, the Pope has said he'll resign on February 28th. In his words:
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.
He goes on to lament the fast changing times and the many challenges ahead of the church, which appears to advise electing a younger Pope who can handle the 24 hour news cycle at Internet Speed.
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.
Finally, he asks "pardon for all my defects", and entrusts the the church to Jesus, Mary and the cardinals who will chose his successor.
While it's certainly not been an easy ride for the Pope, who was first attacked for having been enlisted in the Hitler Youth (though not a member of the Nazi party), and repeatedly rebuked for the hundreds of accusations of molestation perpretated by priests under his watch, it's fair to say his resignation is a surprise to most. The Catholic church will most certainly move to chose a new Pope quickly, but questions remain about what the Pope's plans are after his resignation is finalized.
As reported by the Vatican Radio website:
“We lack a law, so far, on the status of a former pope, of someone who resigned the papacy,” said Msgr. David-Maria Jaeger, OFM, a professor of canon law at Rome’s Pontifical University Antonianum. “It is possible either Benedict XVI in the next few days, or his successor, will make such a law, because many questions must be asked: What is the proper title by which to address a former pope? What are his immunities and prerogatives? There is a question of his international standing. All of this has to be settled…There was never any need to deal with it.”