Religious leaders express their surprise – including even the Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi
Here is a statement from Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth:
“I am personally very sad at this news but as a Bishop with all it entails I can completely understand the Holy Father’s reason. It is many centuries since a Pope resigned from office and this will be a new situation for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
“The Diocese of Portsmouth is full of gratitude to God for all we have received from Pope Benedict XVI.
“We pray for him and for his health and we ask the Lord for His grace and guidance for the Church. We pray for the man who will be called next to fulfil the office of Peter given to us by Christ.”
Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff has issued a statement, too:
“I share the surprise of people all over the world at the news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Petrine Office. I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and humility, made with characteristic clarity of mind and action.
I ask people of faith both within the Catholic Church and outside it to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers. Although physical frailty has caused him to make this decision, his spiritual strength continues to witness to his faith and in the Lord Jesus whom he has served so faithfully throughout his life. He will continue to serve the Church through the sacrifice of his prayers.”
No one from England or Wales will be present at the conclave. Scotland and Ireland will be represented by Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Cardinal Seán Brady.
Catholic News Service has a list of 14 cardinals from the US and Canada:
Thomas Collins of Toronto
Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
Jean-Claude Turcotte, retired archbishop of Montreal
Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signature
Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston
Timothy Dolan of New York
Francis E. George of Chicago
James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
William Levada, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles
Edwin O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Sean O’Malley of Boston
Justin F. Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia
Donald W. Wuerl of Washington
George Weigel says it’s an abdication, not a resignation:
It’s a surprise, obviously. This hasn’t happened since 1296, which is 717 years ago . . . The pope then was Pope Celestine V. He was 85 years old, too, so there’s an interesting historical symmetry here.
Pope Benedict XVI has said on numerous public occasions including his most recent interview book that were he to come to the judgment that he did not have the physical stamina left to give the church the leadership it deserved, that he would abdicate.
I think that is frankly the word in this occasion. A resignation is something that someone hands to someone else. Popes have no one to resign to, so this is an abdication. He has said that he would consider this. I am sure that he considered it thoughtfully and prayerfully.
It is obviously unprecedented, but I think we’ve all had the sense, both from the realities of a world where people live much longer than before and from the pope’s words, that this was a real possibility.
I find the timing of this somewhat surprising since the pope is leading the church right now through what he calls a year of faith, a special year devoted to the theological virtue of faith, the proclamation of Christian faith throughout the world. I had thought, and I believe we discussed this with our colleagues at NBC, that were he to abdicate that might come logically at the end of this year.
Anna Arco, editor-at-large of The Catholic Herald and a fellow Bavarian, has sent in her reaction:
I think it’s the right decision on his part as he avoids becoming a pawn in Vatican power games as he gets older, frailer and less able to defend himself. I think it’s sad because I think he was a brave strong man who faced horrible attacks and media storms and didnt grovel like most politicians but would wait to speak and usually say something different, worth listening to that would diffuse the situation.
He was not a slick media operator or a cold manager or icy prince of the church, but a genuine priest, a great theologian, a pastor who loved his flock and everything he said or did comes out of an understanding of reality and human frailty but with a belief also in the framework of the religion and is coloured by love.
Here we will try to keep readers posted on the reactions to this morning’s momentous news.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales:
Pope Benedict’s announcement today has shocked and surprised everyone. Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action.
The Holy Father recognises the challenges facing the Church and that “strength of mind and body are necessary” for his tasks of governing the Church and proclaiming the Gospel.
I salute his courage and his decision.
I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers. We Catholics will do so, with great affection and the highest esteem for his ministry as our Holy Father remembering with joy his Visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. Pray, too, for the Church and all the steps that must take place in the next weeks. We entrust ourselves to the loving Providence of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien:
“Like many people throughout the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign. I know that his decision will have been considered most carefully and that it has come after much prayer and reflection.
I will offer my prayers for Pope Benedict and call on the Catholic community of Scotland to join me in praying for him at this time of deterioration in his health as he recognises his incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to him.
I hope I will also be able to rely on the prayers of Catholics across the world for the Cardinal Electors as we prepare to travel to Rome in order to participate in the conclave, which will be convoked to elect a successor as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff.”
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury:
It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage. As I prepare to take up office I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ. He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity.
In his visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict showed us all something of what the vocation of the See of Rome can mean in practice – a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question. In his teaching and writing he has brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day. We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s ministry.
We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart, and we entrust to the Holy Spirit those who have a responsibility to elect his successor.