The big news this morning is that Pope Benedict XVI says that he will resign by the end of February, the first pope to do so in just under 600 years. Read the official statement, courtesy of ABC News. The key passage:
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.
Benedict has done the right thing. As popes age and become less vigorous, the Vatican bureaucracy often takes over. These days, with Catholic communities in the Middle East threatened by rising tide of sectarian hostility, the abuse scandal still undermining faith in the West, and the church at risk of catastrophic decline in many of its historic strongholds, the Catholic Church does not need weak leadership. Benedict did not cause these crises and has done much to set a process of renewal in motion, but he is right to recognize that these are no ordinary times for the institution he leads and in making way for an orderly succession he is rendering a great service to the Church he seeks to serve.