No Pope in living memory has willingly left the office before now. Pope Benedict XVI will retire from the office of the Pope on 28 February. Benedict is currently 85. In his statement made this morning at the Vatican, Benedict cited age and health as his reasons for departing the office. He becomes the first Pope to willingly resign the office since Pope Celestine V in 1294. Only four Popes, the last being in 1415, have resigned office for various reasons.
Pope Benedict IX left under pressure due to a financial scandal, and Pope Gregory XII resigned under political pressure.
In his resignation, Benedict stated, 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 bark 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.
It is unlikely that the resignation of Benedict will change the nature or course of the Catholic Church greatly as it is likely that his successor will be rooted in traditionalism. Benedict has faced mounting criticism over his handling of the child sexual abuse scandal which has often resulted in attempts to hide the money and culpability of the Church in order to avoid lawsuits. He has also faced heavy criticism for his insistence on interfering in domestic politics. The Catholic Church, under Benedict’s reign, has been funding political campaigns to try and prevent LGBT rights in the United States.