Pope Benedict surprised his 1.2 billion Catholic followers around the world, including the Archbishop of Toronto, when he announced his resignation on Monday.
In a statement, the 85-year-old German-born pontiff cited his deteriorating strength as the reason behind his historic decision. He is the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign.
“Today was certainly a great surprise,” Toronto Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins said following a mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral on Monday afternoon.
“I think the whole church gathers together at such a time in prayer for the College of Cardinals in this most profound mission … to elect the successor of Peter.”
Benedict was elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005, succeeding John Paul, one of the most-popular pontiffs in history. Benedict will step down on Feb. 28.
The College of Cardinals will gather for a conclave to elect the next pope, probably by the end of next month.
There is speculation Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, may be among those being considered to take over for Benedict.
“We knew he had said if he felt his strength was not up to adequately fulfilling the mission he would resign, but nobody at all was expecting it this morning,” Collins said.
In a statement, the pope said in order to govern “…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,” he said according to a statement from the Vatican.
While Benedict worked to reaffirm the traditional Catholic identity, critics claim he turned back the clock on reforms and damaged relations with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.
With files from Reuters
Full text of Benedict’s statement:
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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI