Monday, 11 February 2013
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, 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 steer the boat 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil 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."
Comment: I have to congratulate the Pope for taking these steps as it was not an easy decision to come to. Reading the letter several times a few things stand out for me:
1. His move seems to be a matter on conscience. Something - or in this case Someone - has been weighing on his mind and he feels 'led' to take this step. God is at work - is this the beginning of a new era for the Church? "Behold I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up, don't you perceive it?" Isaiah 43:19. The world is ready for a new move of God and the West is more ready - or more in need - than most.
2. This in part is due to his increasing old age which he feels makes him "no longer suited to an adequate exercise" of his ministry. This could be seen as a reluctant admission that he is 'past it' but I prefer to believe that it is a humble acknowledgement of the need to pass the baton on to a younger and fitter person. You have to therefore question the recent elections of popes which seem to favour older men.
3. He is aware too that he has not the resources - whether physical or intellectual - to deal with the rapid changes that are taking place in our world today. It requires a particular sort of person to guide the Church through the rapids and he is stepping down to enable the Church to elect someone better equipped to do so. However if this is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit should we be thinking of any other criteria other than he on whom the Spirit has fallen?
4. "There is a time for everything" Ecclesiastes tells us (Eccles 3:1ff) and wisdom is knowing when that time is. It is the time for Benedict to go and he has shown the wisdom to know that this is the time.
Whatever has been said in the past about Benedict XVI he has shown here that he is not afraid to make a difficult decision in the best interest of the Church.