Pope Benedict XVI announces resignation – as it happened

Last modified: 05: 07 PM GMT+0
• Pope Benedict XVI to step down
• Pontiff says his age means he lacks strength to do job
• First pope to resign in 600 years
• Turkson, Ouellet or Arinze may be successor
• Obama: 'I have appreciated our work together'
• Read news story: Pope resigns due to age and declining health
Read a summary of key events


We're going to wrap up our live blog coverage of reaction to the pope's announcement that he will step down at the end of the month. Here's a summary of where things stand:

Although Pope Benedict XVI reportedly made his decision to resign months ago, his announcement Monday morning took most everyone by surprise. Catholic leaders and religious leaders around the world expressed their support as church members expressed shock at the news.

The move could be the most potentially influential action the pope has taken in his eight-year papacy. A pope has not resigned since 1415. The 85-year-old Benedict's reasoning was simple: he considers himself too worn down to fill the role.

• A successor is expected to be elected by the end of next month. Oft-mentioned candidates are Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and Italy’s Angelo Scola.

• Critics of Pope Benedict XVI welcomed his departure, saying he did not do enough to stop the sexual abuse of children by priests, or to acknowledge the problem. He was also criticized as having failed to reverse a decline in church membership.

Benedict says he wishes to continue to serve the Catholic church "through a life dedicated to prayer". He will revert to his former title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger upon his resignation, the Catholic church in England said. There was “absolute silence” this morning when the pope told cardinals the news, according to Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who witnessed his resignation.


The Guardian's Stephen Bates analyzes the "sense of drift and disappointment" attached to Benedict's papacy:

"I'd say it has been disastrous," said Michael Walsh, the British historian of the papacy, on Monday night.

The problems facing the church remain: the child abuse scandal has not been resolved, nor has the church's loss of authority and self-confidence been reversed. In the west, and Europe was clearly the focus of Benedict's interest, the decline in church attendances and the lack of vocations to staff the future priesthood, the sheer disintegration in its status and esteem, have been neither confronted nor resolved. Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic weekly the Tablet, said: "It has been a very troubled time. We have not got a Catholic church at ease with itself."

Indeed, the Vatican has seemed to be pressing hard in the opposite direction: into a cul-de-sac of conservative authoritarianism which neither inspires nor revives the mass of cradle Catholics, who are still deserting the church even in heartlands such as Spain and Ireland. Fifty years ago, governments in Catholic countries would tremble at the Vatican's displeasure; now they just wag their fingers back and press on with their plans for gay marriages or easier abortion. There is no comeback when the church has squandered its moral authority across the world over child abuse.

Read the full piece here.

The Washington Post's Juan Forero and Nick Miroff round up reaction in Latin America to the pope's announcement. "Forty percent of all Catholics are in Latin America," they write, "and clergymen from Brazil, Mexico and Argentina are considered contenders for a church that is shrinking in Europe but growing in many developing countries.":

The president of the Episcopal Conference of Bishops in Venezuela said the move served “as a good example” for having shown that it is best to resign in the face of hobbling incapacity. In public comments, Archbishop Diego Padron also said the pope had the interest of the church and its renovation in mind. “The pope doesn’t usually give out news in pieces,” Padron said.

Read the full piece here.


#PHOTO: Lightning strikes St Peter's dome at #Vatican on day the #Pope announced resignation, by Filippo Monteforte twitter.com/AFP/status/301…

— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) February 11, 2013

My colleague Karen McVeigh rounds up reaction from US church leaders, who praised the pope's "selfless leadership":

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, one of five cardinals who lead the US archdiocese, said he did not think the church would change after Benedict's resignation. Wuerl said: "I'm just very surprised, but it's understandable that the Holy Father would want to do this if he can't carry on, but this is just a great surprise. There was no inkling of this at all and when I heard it on the news, the first thing I did was call Rome and it was confirmed that this was being announced."

According to CBS Pittsburgh, Wuerl said: "I think the change is not going to be something we will feel very dramatically because the church goes on, the work of the church goes on – and most of that takes place in parishes anyway."

Read the full story here.

TOPSHOTS Poper Benedict XVI's appartments are alighted on the evening after it was announced earlier in the day that the pontif will resign on February 11, 2013. Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013 announced he will resign on February 28, a Vatican spokesman told AFP, which will make him the first pope to do so in centuries.  AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLAROANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
Light fills the window of Pope Benedict XVI's apartments at the end of the day he announced his abdication. Photograph: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images


My colleague Karen McVeigh has been speaking with advocacy groups for victims of the child sex abuse crisis that engulfed the Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI's tenure. They welcomed his surprise resignation:

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an organisation of 12,000 members worldwide, claim Benedict is personally responsible for widespread abuse within the church because he chose to protect its reputation over the safety of children. US lawyers who are currently suing the pontiff and other high-ranking Holy See officials for systematically concealing sexual crimes around the world said his resignation may lead to more international prosecutions.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, condemned the pope's "terrible record" on child sex abuse and said he hoped he would “finally show some courageous leadership on the abuse crisis” in his remaining days.

Clohessy told the Guardian: “Before he became Pope his predecessor put him in charge of the abuse crisis. He has read thousands of pages of reports of the abuse cases from across the world. He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the church yet he has done precious little to protect children.”

Link to full report to come shortly.

Is it really possible to retire from a higher calling?

We've just launched a people's panel asking for your thoughts about Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. For the next 12 hours, we're collecting responses to the following questions:

• Do you think the papacy should be a position held for life?

• Are world leadership positions more meaningful if they're held until death?

• Are there other positions that you think can't or shouldn't be relinquished?

To participate click here. We'll publish the results tomorrow.


Catholics interviewed in Washington DC express surprise at the pope's resignation, in a video by the Associated Press:

In the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Thomas Reese flags Pope Benedict's previous writing on the question of resignation:

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict responded unambiguously to a question about whether a pope could resign: "Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."

On the other hand, he did not favor resignation simply because the burden of the papacy is great. "When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say someone else should do it."

(via Daily Dish)

Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago, has released a statement praising Benedict for a "resoluteness of purpose":

Pope Benedict XVI has, in all circumstances, placed the will of God for the good of the Church before every other consideration. That same resoluteness of purpose speaks in his statement announcing his resignation from the Chair of Peter.

He has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ; he has handed on the apostolic faith; he has loved all of God’s people with all his heart. He has now shown great courage in deciding, after prayer and soul-searching, to resign his office at the end of this month.

With the gratitude of sons and daughters in our hearts, we ask the Lord to bless him and give him strength, as we begin to pray now for the one who will succeed him as Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ.

For readers in the United States who may have missed it earlier, an interactive timeline of the popes going back to Clement XII is here. It illustrates how a long-serving pope is often followed by one whose papacy is much shorter.

Pope Benedict XVI's time in charge lasted from 2005 to 2013: eight years.

Before him came John Paul II, who was pope for 27 years.

His predecessor was John Paul I, whose reign of 33 days was the shortest in papal history. 

Before him came Paul VI, pope from 1963 to 1978.

A photo gallery of the Pope Benedict XVI years is here

FILE - In this May 28, 2006 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI walks through the gate of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, to pay his respects to the Holocaust victims. Sign at left reads
In this May 28, 2006 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI walks through the gate of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, to pay his respects to the Holocaust victims. Sign at left reads "stop" in German and Polish. Sign above the gate reads "Arbeit macht frei," German for "work will set you free." Photograph: DIETHER ENDLICHER/AP

The Guardian's Andrew Brown writes that Benedict's resignation "can be seen as an implied rebuke to his predecessor":

...During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties.

Although his accession was greeted with horror by the liberals in the church, he spent almost all his time in office struggling ineffectually with the problems inherited from John Paul II. His most remarkable innovation was his decision to resign as he felt his powers failing. That ought to be a precedent that the church will make use of again.

In Benedict's resignation statement can be seen an implied rebuke to his predecessor, who argued that clinging to life and power for as long as possible was itself a form of witness to Christ's suffering. Benedict, however, says: "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 … strength of both mind and body are necessary."

Read the full piece here.


Collegial kudos are flowing today to Giovanna Chirri, the journalist who picked up the news of the pope's resignation – because she was listening to him give his statement in Latin, and she understands spoken Latin.

No big deal, Chirri writes:

The #Pope's Latin is very easy to understand

— Giovanna Chirri (@GiovannaChirri) February 11, 2013

In eight years, Pope Benedict never visited Ireland. Henry McDonald reflects on how times have changed since John Paul II's visit:

Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in September 2010 was regarded as something of a PR triumph for the Vatican – at least in comparison with the deluge of dirt the Holy See had to deal with from across the sea in Ireland.

During his eight year 'reign' the Pope never made it over to what was once one of Rome's most favoured nations. The wounds from the rolling scandals involving paedophile priests, hierarchy cover-ups and industrial scale abuse in church-run institutions were too raw for a papal visit to the Republic. As Rome Centre now ponders on whom to choose as the next successor to St.Peter, the question will have to be tackled as to if and when a new Pope can follow in John Paul II's footsteps and kiss the tarmac once more at Dublin Airport.

Whoever the Vatican elects as Pope, hard-liner or reformer, liberal or conservative, he will find Ireland a very different place from 1979 when John Paul II wooed millions to his masses and the Catholic Church's hegemony in the Republic looked rock solid.

During Pope Benedict's visit to the UK, the Guardian's Cameron Robertson followed a Chicago woman, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, as she conducted a public campaign for new safeguards against abuse:


The pope made a stir when he joined Twitter last December. His most recent tweet in English was sent on Sunday 10 February:

We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.

— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) February 10, 2013

Obama: 'I have appreciated our work together'

President Barack Obama has issued a statement:

On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years.

The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's successor.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which is pursuing a case against the pope and other Vatican leaders on behalf of victims of sexual abuse in the international criminal court, said that Pope Benedict's resignation will make international prosecution easier

Here is video footage of the pope announcing his resignation this morning.


Here is a summary of today’s key events:

Pope Benedict XVI has resigned, saying that at his age he cannot carry out all his tasks adequately and is losing strength in body and mind. His brother Georg suggested he was finding it difficult to walk and had been advised to stop making transatlantic journeys.

The pope will step down on 28 February. A papal conclave will follow to elect his successor, who will be in place by the end of March, and perhaps in time for holy week on 24 March.

Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and Italy’s Angelo Scola emerged as some of the leading candidates to succeed Benedict.  One of the next pope's first trips abroad is likely to be to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day on 1 July. 

Benedict says he wishes to continue to serve the Catholic church "through a life dedicated to prayer". He will revert to his former title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger upon his resignation, the Catholic church in England said. There was “absolute silence” this morning when the pope told cardinals the news, according to Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who witnessed his resignation.

The pope made his decision over the last few months, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, and it took all his closest aides by surprise. He will honour his commitments until he steps down. Lombardi said this was Benedict’s own personal decision. Upon resigning, he will go to the papal summer residence near Rome, and then will move to a cloistered residence in the Vatican, which may make life difficult for his successor.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican church, said he had learned of the pope's resignation with a "heavy heart but complete understanding".

• The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415.

• Child abuse victims in Ireland and the US criticised Benedict for not having done more to deal with the scandals of paedophile priests in the Catholic church.

I'm going to hand over to my colleague Tom McCarthy in New York now for continuing coverage of the reaction to Pope Benedict's resignation.


Here's the front page of today's Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Vatican newspaper frontpage: "Benedict XVI leaves the pontificate" twitter.com/CatholicNewsSv…

— Catholic News Svc (@CatholicNewsSvc) February 11, 2013

Bill McMurry, a lawyer from Kentucky, who has sued the Vatican for sexual abuse allegations going back as far as 1928, has told Karen McVeigh in New York it was difficult for him to believe that Benedict had stepped down for health reasons.

He said: “The world is stunned. We don't see in the history of the papal world a pope stand down. It makes you wonder what's going on.”

McMurry said he personally held Benedict responsible for “decades” of cover-up of the sex abuse scandal in the US, giving the example of his instructing bishops to send more paedophile priests from one district to another. He told the Guardian: “It is a good day when a bad pope or a bad leader of your religion steps aside.”

Alex Fenton-Thomas profiles the two other candidates that bookies are now predicting might replace Benedict.

Cardinal Francis Arinze

Converted from traditional animist beliefs at the age of nine, the Igbo Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze has been touted as papabile since before Pope John Paul II and was a leading candidate to be elected in 2005.
He made his name during the Nigeria-Biafra war when, as archbishop of Onitsha, he organised the distribution of food and medical supplies to the poor in a region torn apart by the conflict. He was made a cardinal in 1985 and is known for his tolerance of elements of traditional worship in Catholic mass.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet

Marc Ouellet, a French-Canadian, has also been linked with the papacy in the past, especially since being appointed the head of the Congregation of Bishops, which appoints bishops throughout the world. Born in 1944 in rural Quebec, he was appointed archbishop of Quebec in 2002 and made cardinal a year later. He attracted controversy in 2010 when he addressed an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City, saying that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime".

And west Africa correspondent Afua Hirsch adds this on Cardinal Peter Turkson:

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Peter Turkson, 64, was born on 11 October 1948 in Nsuta-Wassaw, a mining hub in Ghana’s western region, to a Methodist mother and a Catholic father. He studied and taught abroad in New York and Rome, before being ordained to the priesthood in 1975 and appointed archbishop of Cape Coast – the former colonial capital of Ghana and a key diocese – in 1992.

As archbishop Turkson was known for his human touch, colleagues said. “We love him,” said Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, metropolitan archbishop of Ghanaian capital Accra, who was made archbishop in Ghana at the same time as Cardinal Turkson and has known him since school. “For Ghanaians he was our first cardinal, and to be made cardinal in his 50s was a big feather in our cap."

Turkson’s popularity in west Africa has been boosted by his regular TV appearances, particularly a weekly broadcast on state television channel Ghana TV, Catholic Digest. He has maintained strong ties with his native country in addition to his duties in the Vatican.

Turkson’s time in the role has not been without controversy, however. He sparked an outcry last year when he screened a YouTube film at an international meeting of bishops featuring alarmist predictions at the rise of Islam in Europe.

The clip, Muslim Demographics, features claims such as: “In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic.”

Colleagues in Ghana voiced approval towards Cardinal Turkson’s stance on social matters, but confirmed that he would be unlikely to take the church in a radical direction on contentious issues such as abortion and contraception.

In the past Turkson has not ruled out the use of condoms but advocated abstinence and fidelity, and treatment for HIV infected people above spending on and promoting the use of contraception.


I had a feeling this morning that the bookmakers may have been scrabbling a little to compile their lists of possible papal replacements. Sure enough, Paddy Power has switched from backing Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson as favourite to Cardinal Mark Ouellet of Canada. Ouellet is 11/4 and Turkson is 3/1.

William Hill has also abandoned Turkson, placing Nigerian Francis Arinze at the top of the list, at 3/1. Ouellet and Turkson are joint second at 7/2.

In addition Paddy Power has installed Richard Dawkins at "666/1" to become the next pope. Ha ha.

After multiple requests we've put Richard Dawkins straight in @ 666/1 to be next Pope! Web: pdy.pr/otrUnCMob: pdy.pr/ID2bzk

— Paddy Power (@paddypower) February 11, 2013


Giles Tremlett muses over the doctrine of papal infallibility, which some have taken to mean that Benedict XVI was right to retire early and John Paul II was equally right to hang on until the bitter end. Giles notes that the definition of infallibility given by the First Vatican Council of 1870 refers only to when the pontiff defines "a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church", in which case he "possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine redeemer willed his church to enjoy". On this point, at least, the council left little room for argument: "Should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema."

In Ghana, home of Cardinal Peter Turkson, a frontrunner to replace Benedict, Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle has been speaking to my colleague Afua Hirsch. Palmer-Buckle said:

Why not have an African pope next? We have had a German and a Polish pope, so it could be an African next. But the Catholic church is catholic - it includes all of us, all cultures, all ethnic groups, we turn to the Holy Spirit through prayer to find our next pope, and whoever that may be, so be it.

One of the next pope's first trips abroad is likely to be to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day on 1 July, reports Jonathan Watts.

The archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Dom Orani Tempesta, says the planned papal visit to Brazil for World Youth Day will go ahead and is likely to be one of the first overseas trips by the new pope.

In an intriguing comment that suggests the pope may have anticipated his resignation, the archbishop noted: "When we fixed the date for 2013, Benedict XVI said: 'The pope will go to World Youth Day, whether it is me or my successor.'"

Orani said it was usual for a new pope to stick to the schedule set by his predecessor. "If that happens, we will be one of the first cities that the new pontiff visits."


Another former Artane Industrial School inmate and co-founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse told the Guardian that he suspected Pope Benedict's willingness to help the victims of clerical abuse had been thwarted by ultra conservative elements in the Vatican, and told Henry McDonald in Dublin:

In March 2010 when the pope issued his pastoral letter to the people of Ireland we welcomed it, because of the sincerity of the words in that letter from the pope in the name of the church. He said he was 'truly sorry' and accepted that our 'dignity had been violated'. So we went on to meet the contact group of bishops in Ireland thinking that this would be a new era.

But what we got instead were pastoral platitudes and special masses offered up. Yet what was missing was a practical response for the victims on earth, not the afterlife. There are people out there with enormous problems caused by what happened in childhood. Meanwhile there were ultra-rightwing elements in Rome who resisted change that he wanted to bring about; he lost that power struggle in the Vatican and so did not fulfil what he wanted to do in his pastoral letter. I would go as far as to say he faced obstruction, high up, [from people] who were opposed to any reforms or any open acknowledgement of their wrongdoings.


Surely atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins is deliberately trying to wind people up with this tweet:

I feel sorry for the Pope and all old Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex.

— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) February 11, 2013

Alex Fenton-Thomas explains how a new pope is chosen.

Popes have been elected by a college of specially selected cardinals since 1059. Before that the Bishop of Rome, like other bishops, was chosen by a meeting of the local clergy as well as the people of the diocese.

An incredibly complicated system of voting has been devised over the years to ensure the ballot is secret but also that no one can vote for himself. Voting for yourself was outlawed in 1621 and a two-thirds majority was needed for the pope to be elected.

This method has been tweaked over the years but remains largely the same and was the method used to elevate Cardinal Ratzinger to the post of pope in 2005.

The famous coloured smoke is released at the end of every ballot.

If no pope is elected, the ballot papers are traditionally burnt with damp straw, but chemicals are now also used, to create dark smoke.

If a pope has been elected, white smoke is seen coming out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, and since 2005 church bells are also rung to avoid confusion – as sometimes the white smoke isn't particularly white.

Today's papal conclave dates back to 1274, after a turbulent period called the interregnum (1268-71) when no pope was elected. The Second Council of Lyons declared that the cardinal electors should be locked away cum clave, or "with a key", until they had made a suitable decision.

White smoke from the roof of the Sistine Chapel announces the election of a new pope in 2005.
White smoke from the roof of the Sistine Chapel announces the election of a new pope in 2005. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images


David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, an organisation with 12,000 members, said he hoped that the pope would “finally show some courageous leadership on the abuse crisis” in his remaining days, writes Karen McVeigh from New York.

Clohessy told the Guardian: “His record is terrible. Before he became pope his predecessor put him in charge of the abuse crisis. He has read thousands of pages of reports of the abuse cases from across the world.

“He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the church yet he has done precious little to protect children.”

Clohessy said a big question for his successor is “what he will do in a very tangible way to safeguard children, deter cover-ups, punish enablers and chart a new course".

He added: “What matters is not whether a statement is unprecedented but whether an action is affected. There are 30 bishops in the US [who] have posted on the diocese websites the names of predator priests. The pope should require bishops to do that and to work with secular lawmakers to reform archaic sex abuse laws so that predators from every walk of life faces justice.”

Africa correspondent David Smith has been speaking to Raymond Perrier, director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa, who says an African pope is conceivable:

I wonder if the cardinals now have a chance to do what they couldn't in 2005. Then the tanker was steaming ahead and Joseph Ratzinger was the closest thing to a No 2. Now the college can say we're in a new millennium and the numbers clearly point south and a Latin American, African or Asian is not impossible.

He added of Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson:

He has a very strong reputation and is clearly a loyal servant of the church. He's not afraid to take strong positions and he looks forwards, not backwards. There are others in Africa who are not so forward looking but I won't mention names.

One of the organisations representing victims of Catholic clergy in Ireland's notorious orphanages and industrial schools said today that survivors would not miss Pope Benedict, reports Henry McDonald from Dublin.

Irish Survivors of Child Abuse said the outgoing pope had broken all his promises to offer them some semblance of justice for the crimes of priests and other members of religious orders in Ireland.

John Kelly, one of the founders of Irish Soca and a former inmate at Dublin's notorious Artane Industrial School which was run by the Christian Brothers, said Pope Benedict had resisted their demands to properly investigate and in some instances disband religious orders tainted by sexual and physical abuse.

Speaking in Dublin, Kelly said: "In our view we were let down in terms of promises of inquiries, reform and most importantly of all the Vatican continuing not to acknowledge that any priest or religious bodies found guilty of child abuse would face the civil authorities and be tried for their crimes in the courts.

"I'm afraid to say Pope Benedict won't be missed as the Vatican continued to block proper investigations into the abuse scandals during his term in office. Nor are we confident that things are going to be different because of all the conservative Cardinals he appointed. For us, he broke his word."

The verbal assault on the Vatican would have been unthinkable right up to the early 1990s when successive Irish governments were terrified of challenging the Catholic church's authority because of fears of a backlash from pulpits across Ireland.


In New York, Ronald S Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, said Benedict's papacy had "elevated Catholic-Jewish relations on to an unprecedented level".

No pope before him visited as many synagogues. He met with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations. No pope before him made more strides to improve the relationship with the Jews – on so many levels.

From beginning to end, Pope Benedict XVI has shown skillful leadership. He realised that the public Holocaust denial by church leaders must not go unanswered, and he spoke out against it.

Pope Benedict at Ground Zero in New York in 2008
Pope Benedict at Ground Zero in New York in 2008. Photograph: Max Rossi/Pool/EPA Photograph: MAX ROSSI / POOL/EPA


Georg Ratzinger, the pope's brother, has told the German media that Benedict's resignation was part of a "natural process", reports Kate Connolly from Berlin.

"My brother would like to have more rest in his old age," he said, adding that he had been informed of Benedict's plans some months ago.

There is speculation that Georg Ratzinger, who has a very close relationship with his brother and often visits him in Rome, might join his brother and live with him in retirement in the Italian cloister.

The tabloid Bild, whose headline read "Wir sind Pabst" (we are the pope) when Benedict's papacy began, reported Georg as having said the pope's doctor had advised him to stop taking transatlantic journeys, adding that Benedict found it increasingly difficult to walk.

German president Joachim Gauck, himself a Protestant pastor, said just now that the pope's decision had required "great courage and self reflection, both of which deserve our respect". He added that Germans had been very proud to have a German pope, who had been of "historical significance for our country". He said the pope in turn, even as "pope for the whole world", had "always stayed connected with his homeland in his heart".


Here Sam Jones looks at five key issues in the in-tray of the next pope: contraception and Aids, sexual abuse within the church, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, abortion, and women's place in the Catholic church.


Who'd want to be pope, asks Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor:

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor: "Who'd want to be #Pope? It's not an easy task and it demands a great sacrifice."

— BBC Newshour (@BBCNewshour) February 11, 2013

In the US, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Benedict's resignation was "another sign of his great care for the church".

He delighted our beloved United States of America when he visited Washington and New York in 2008. As a favoured statesman he greeted notables at the White House. As a spiritual leader he led the Catholic community in prayer at Nationals Park, Yankee Stadium and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As a pastor feeling pain in a stirring, private meeting at the Vatican nunciature in Washington, he brought a listening heart to victims of sexual abuse by clerics ...

He unified Catholics and reached out to schismatic groups in hopes of drawing them back to the church. More unites us than divides us, he said by word and deed. That message is for eternity.

He spoke for the world’s poor when he visited them and wrote of equality among nations in his peace messages and encyclicals. He pleaded for a more equitable share of world resources and for a respect for God’s creation in nature.

In the comments, TypingWithToes asks:

A few questions:

1. How will people now refer to Pope Benedict XVI? Does he revert to his pre-papal name of Cardinal Ratzinger? Does he become "the Catholic formerly known as the Pope"?

2. Since the last resignation was in 1415, is it possible that this will establish a new precedent, and the next Pope will be expected to resign before death?

It's interesting that this has happened shortly after the Queen of the Netherlands abdicated, continuing a tradition in that monarchy established in the 20th century.

3. Perhaps the Pope is no longer a Catholic?

I've just been speaking to the Catholic church here in England about the first point.

A spokesman told me that at 8pm on 28 February, when he resigns, Pope Benedict will revert to his pre-pope title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He will no longer be addressed as "his holiness".

As for TypingWithToes' other questions, it's certainly possible this process could start a precedent, since as John Hooper pointed out earlier Benedict's decision partly stems from longer life expectancy in the modern age. Equally it would be surprising if both this example and that of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands did not give Queen Elizabeth some pause for thought – although it remains extremely unlikely she would abdicate. And, yes, the pope's Catholic.


Mohammed Shafiq of Muslim thinktank the Ramadhan Foundation says Benedict's papacy will be "sadly remembered" by the Muslim world for "his distortion and attack on Islam" at the beginning of his papacy. In 2006, Pope Benedict outraged Muslims when he used a quotation to the effect that the contributions made by Muhammad were "only evil and inhuman". Shafiq writes:

This sadly meant the hard work of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was tarnished and required extensive work to rebuild ties between Christianity and Islam. That is something he has tried to do over the past eight years and we do wish it could have started better than it did.

The Catholic church now has a chance to return back to the teachings and practices of Pope John Paul II which were of inter-faith work and respect for our respective positions and I hope that once a new pope is elected we actually see our faiths come together.

Shafiq said religion was "under attack from rampant secularism" and Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and those of other faiths needed to come together to defend it.


The Vatican has released this photograph of Pope Benedict telling cardinals about his resignation this morning.

Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation to cardinals on 11 February 2013.
Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation to cardinals today. Photograph: AP Photograph: AP

And this one shows the cardinals after receiving the news.

Cardinals after Pope Benedict XVI told them of his resignation on 11 February 2013.
Cardinals after Pope Benedict XVI told them of his resignation today. Photograph: AP Photograph: /AP

Hans Kung, a Swiss theologian and Catholic priest who is considered to be Benedict's greatest adversary, has said that Benedict deserved respect for resigning, reports Kate Connolly from Berlin.

Kung called the step "understandable for many reasons". The 84-year-old, who worked with Benedict in southern Germany in the 1960s, added: "It is to be hoped however, that Ratzinger will not exercise an influence on the choice of his successor."

He repeated his past criticisms of the pope, saying: "During his time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the church out of its multifaceted crisis."

In sharp contrast to the reasonably interchangeable comments of political and religious leaders comes this splenetic blogpost suggesting Benedict’s papacy “may have fatally undermined the Vatican” from Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society.

Sanderson writes:

Under Ratzinger the Vatican has become despised and resented throughout the world. He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church's popularity and its authority.

Catholics have deserted the Church at an increasing rate, repelled by the inhumanity of Ratzinger's unbending adherence to what are perceived as cruel doctrines ...

Joseph Ratzinger will now disappear from the scene. Many will sigh with relief at his departure. But we shouldn't celebrate too soon. He has put in place a college of cardinals that are as reactionary as he is – or even more so.

Whoever they elect as the next pope, there is unlikely to be much improvement.

This interactive from my colleague Paddy Allen illustrates the idea that a long-serving pope is often followed by one whose papacy is much shorter.

Pope Benedict XVI's time in charge lasted from 2005 to 2013: eight years.

Before him came John Paul II, who was pope for 27 years.

His predecessor was John Paul I, whose reign of 33 days was the shortest in papal history. 

Before him came Paul VI, pope from 1963 to 1978.

The rule starts to break down with the consecutive long papacies of Pius XI (1922-39) and Pius XII (1939-58).

In Rome, John Hooper notes that the reasons for the pope’s resignation are still far from clear.

In the briefing that finished a short while ago in the Vatican, his spokesman said that he had “no current illness that would influence his decision”. The Italian daily La Repubblica reported on its live blog earlier that Benedict suffered from rheumatism and problems with his joints. But the same could be said of almost any man of 85.

One way of looking at it is as a thoroughly modern decision. It was one thing for popes to stay in office until they died in the days when life expectancy was three score and 10. But it is quite another now that contemporary medicine can keep people alive much longer. 

There is an intriguing hint in Benedict’s suggestion that he took his psychological, as well as his physical, condition into account when reaching his decision: “In order to govern the barque 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.”


In Germany, Angela Merkel has given her reaction to the resignation of Pope Benedict, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927. Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, thanked the pope for his work as head of the Catholic church, Kate Connolly reports from Berlin, and said his decision to resign was to be given "the absolute highest respect".

Benedict, she said, "is and remains one of the most important religious thinkers of our time". She added that if he was too weak to fulfil his duties, that had to be respected. "In an age like ours when people live ever longer, many people will understand that even the pope has to come to terms with the burdens of ageing."


Britain's chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has hailed Benedict as "a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm":

I was honoured to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Britain on behalf of non-Christian faiths in 2010 and spend time with him during a visit to the Vatican in 2011. I saw him to be a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm, a deeply thoughtful and compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and wisdom. I wish him good health, blessings and best wishes for the future.

Despite criticising the Vatican last year for its response to the child abuse scandals in Ireland, the taoiseach Enda Kenny has sent his best wishes to Pope Benedict, reports Henry McDonald in Dublin.

Kenny said the outgoing Pope had given "strong leadership" to the Catholic church.

"This is clearly a decision which the holy father has taken following careful consideration and deep prayer and reflection. It reflects his profound sense of duty to the church, and also his deep appreciation of the unique pressures of spiritual leadership in the modern world," Kenny said.

His deputy, Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore, said that like most people in Ireland his immediate concern was for the pope's health.

Overall there is great shock across Ireland, which is still an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Irish public broadcaster RTE is broadcasting an extended lunchtime programme to discuss the implications of the news from the Vatican.


British Labour leader Ed Miliband has said Pope Benedict has made a "brave" decision.

Many people will remember his historic visit to the UK in 2010 - which was a very special moment for many, especially Catholics, across the country. His decision to stand down is a brave one and we know he will not have reached it lightly.

The choice of a successor is clearly an important one for the Catholic church. Our thoughts are with those who must make such a critical decision on behalf of millions around the world.

Kate Hodal reports from the Philippines, the largest Catholic country in Asia, with roughly 76 million predominantly Roman Catholic followers (others are Aglipayan Catholics):

The church is a huge but increasingly divisive force in the nation, a place where some 7 million Roman Catholics came out to see Pope John Paul II give mass in Manila in 1995 - thought to be the largest Christian gathering in history - but where in recent years, the church has been associated with corruption, questionable leadership and a fierce opposition to the reproductive health bill, which allows the state the right to fund contraception and sex-education classes.

So while many in the country have taken to social media to profess their sadness over the pope's resignation, some are using the news to joke that members of the Philippine church would do well to follow suit, as would certain government leaders.

But there are also many calls for Manila's archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, who was recently ordained a cardinal, to become pope himself. Now that Benedict has resigned, Tagle is among 120 cardinals who can vote for his successor.

There is immediate speculation in South Africa that Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, archbishop of Durban, could be a candidate to be the next pope, reports David Smith.

A spokesman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said: "It would be sheer speculation but for a long time our church has been saying the next pope should be selected from a 'missionary territory', which means Africa, Asia or South America. Cardinal Napier is right up there." Napier is already a match for Benedict XVI when it comes to tweeting.

Here is a gallery showing Pope Benedict XVI's papacy in pictures.

In Brazil, the world's biggest Catholic country, the resignation has generated shock and disbelief, reports Jonathan Watts.

Newspaper and TV websites pushed wall-to-wall coverage of Carnival festivities down to second place to run galleries of photographs of Benedict XVI and reactions from the Vatican and world leaders. 

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops received the information with surprise. A spokesperson for the Catholic organisation told Globo website it has no guidelines on papal resignations. The group is expected to release a statement later today as is the government.

Brazil had been gearing up for a papal visit in July, when Benedict XVI was scheduled to attend a World Youth Day Festival in Rio de Janeiro. He had previously visited São Paulo in 2007, when he met with the then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, canonised a saint and addressed a conference of Latin American bishops.

This continent is home to half of the 1 billion Catholics in the world. Brazil is estimated to have 125 million believers - more than any other country, though the church is thought to have lost ground to other evangelical groups and religions in recent years.


To the vast majority of people today's news will have come - as one cardinal put it - as "a lightning bolt from a clear sky". But some scholars have been slightly less surprised, reports Lizzy Davies in Rome. 

George Ferzoco, a research fellow of Bristol University, is a specialist in Celestine V - the Pope who, as we now all know, resigned in 1294 straight after making it possible for a pope to do so. He points out that Benedict is the only pope to have visited the tomb of Celestine not once but twice.

As this AP report from the second occasion says, Benedict praised his predecessor, who was felt both by himself and by others to be unsuited to the role given him.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Ferzoco believes the link is quite obviously there. He told me: "I think the amount of attention he drew to Celestine was an indication of this matter having been on his mind. I think it's quite clear."

Ferzoco also pointed out that in the town of Sulmona, home to Celestine's tomb, the cathedral has a mosaic showing both Celestine and Benedict: an image which, after today, appears uncannily prescient.

Pope Benedict XVI stands by the remains of Pope Celestine V in 2009.
Pope Benedict XVI stands by the remains of Pope Celestine V in 2009. Photograph: AP Photograph: Anonymous/AP


I noted earlier that with Cardinal Peter Turkson one of the favourites to succeed Benedict the era of an African pope may now have arrived. As many readers have pointed out, Turkson would not be the first pope from that continent. Alex Fenton-Thomas has more:

It is thought there were three African popes during the early days of Christianity in the first half of the first century.

Pope Victor I was the first African pope, hailing from the Roman city of Leptis Magna in modern-day Libya. The spectacular ruins of this city are still to be found on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Tripoli.

Pope Miltiades was elected pope in 311 and presided over the time when Constantine converted to Christianity, seized control of the Empire after the Battle of Milvian Bridge and ended the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan. Miltiades was from a rich north African family living in Rome and it is thought he was chosen to be pontiff to placate the rebellious Berber sect, the Donatists, who were also from north Africa.

The last African pope, who was also of Berber origin, was Pope Gelasius from 492-496.



Here is a summary of today’s key events:

Pope Benedict XVI has resigned, saying that at his age he cannot carry out all his tasks adequately and is losing strength in body and mind.

• The pope will step down on 28 February. A papal conclave will follow to elect his successor, who will be in place by the end of March, and perhaps in time for holy week on 24 March.

The pope says he wishes to continue to serve the Catholic church "through a life dedicated to prayer". There was “absolute silence” this morning when the pope told cardinals the news, according to Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who witnessed his resignation.

Benedict made his decision over the last few months, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, and it took all his closest aides by surprise. He will honour his commitments until he steps down. Lombardi said this was Benedict’s own personal decision. Upon resigning, he will go to the papal summer residence near Rome, and then will move to a cloistered residence in the Vatican, which may make life difficult for his successor.

Bookmakers have made Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson favourite to succeed Benedict. Angelo Scola, the conservative archbishop of Milan, is another top candidate.

• The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican church, said he had learned of the pope's resignation with a "heavy heart but complete understanding".

• The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415.


France Television, the state broadcaster, sent a film crew to Notre
Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris where they filmed shocked visitors in
tears when the news broke, writes Kim Willsher from the French capital.

French president François Hollande said the pope's decision to resign was “eminently respectable”.

“I have no particular comment to make on this decision, which is eminently respectable and which means a new pope will be chosen," Hollande said. He added: “The Republic salutes the pope who has made this decision.”

Christine Boutin, president of the French Christian Democrat party, said: “It's a shock, an immense shock and extraordinary for Catholics.”

François Bayrou, president of the centrist Modem party said the pope's decision was a “very brave gesture, which will open the life of the church to a new era".

Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Photograph: Paul Owen
Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Photograph: Paul Owen Photograph: Paul Owen/Guardian


Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican church, has said he learned of the pope's resignation with a "heavy heart but complete understanding".

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.

And British PM David Cameron paid tribute to Pope Benedict:

He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See. His visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection. He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.

Here's more from the press conference held by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, which has now finished.

Lombardi said the pope made his decision in the last few months.

Benedict will honour his official commitments and public engagements until the date of his resignation, Lombardi said.

The next pope may be elected in time for the start of holy week on 24 March, he said.

Alex Fenton-Thomas profiles Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, named by British bookmakers as the favourite to succeed Benedict.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian, is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He has been considered 'papabile' since he was appointed to this post by Benedict XVI in 2009 amid speculation that the next pope would probably be from Africa as part of the Catholic church's attempts to modernise and reach out to a huge Catholic congregation from the Sahel southwards.

Peter Turkson was born in western Ghana to a Methodist mother and Catholic father. As a boy in the seminary he was considered far too boisterous to be content in a contemplative, solemn career in the church.

But he was reportedly begged by his mother to knuckle down and study hard to become a priest, and he did so well he was chosen to move to the US to study at St Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, New York, and he was ordained as a priest in 1975.

Returning to Ghana, he became a professor at St Teresa's Seminary, near where he grew up, and dedicated himself to academia as well as performing pastoral work in the local area.

In 1992 he was appointed Archbishop of Cape Coast by Pope John Paul II and served as president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1997 to 2005.

It was during this time, in 2003, when Pope John Paul made him the first ever Ghanaian cardinal and his influence was extended by Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed him president of the Ponitifical Council for Justice and Peace, a role which sent him around the world mediating in countries such as the Ivory Coast in 2011.

In October of that year he called for the establishment of a 'global public authority' and a 'central world bank' and has come out in favour of a Robin Hood-style tax on large financial transactions. When he visited Britain with Pope Benedict in 2010 he was singled out as a possible successor.

Pope's resignation - eyewitness account

John Hooper has been speaking to Mexican prelate Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who witnessed the pope's resignation.

Standing in the colonnade that encircles St Peter’s square, his vestments draped over one arm, Monsignor Oscar Sanchez Barba from Guadalajara in Mexico told Hooper he had come to Rome to be told the date for the canonisation of the Blessed Lupita Garcia, a nun. Sanchez said:

We were all in the Sala del Concistorio in the third loggia of the Apostolic palace. After giving the date for the canonisation, the 12th of May, the pope took a sheet of paper and read from it.

He just said that he was resigning and that he would be finishing on February 28.

We were all left … [he tailed off, lost for words]

The cardinals were just looking at one another. Then the pope got to his feet, gave his benediction and left. It was so simple; the simplest thing imaginable. Extraordinary. Nobody expected it.

Then we all left in silence. There was absolute silence … and sadness.

Here's more from the press conference being given by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi has said the pope took his decision "aware of the great problems the church faces today". His decision showed "great courage" and "determination", Lombardi said.

It was Benedict's own personal decision made without any outside pressure.

He ruled out depression or "uncertainty" as the cause of his resignation.

And he said the resignation was not due to any specific illness.

The pope may have wanted to resign now to avoid the exhausting rush of Easter engagements, Lombardi said.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has said the pope's announcement 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.

In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien also says he is "shocked and saddened".

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.


John Hooper in Rome analyses Benedict's seven-year papacy, which he calls "sad and storm-tossed".

The former Joseph Ratzinger came to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church with a reputation as a challenging, conservative intellectual. But the messages that he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his own making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics ...

The pope was himself affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly re-assigned to duties that, in time, allowed him to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people ...

In 2006, he outraged Muslims when, in a scholarly lecture at his old university in Regensburg, he used a quotation to the effect that the contributions made by Muhammad were "only evil and inhuman". That, at least, had the effect of stimulating an exchange with a group of Muslim scholars. But little that was positive emerged from other controversies.

Benedict offended indigenous Latin Americans by claiming that the colonisation of their continent had not involved "the imposition of a foreign culture". And he angered Jews by allowing wider use of the old, Tridentine liturgy, which includes a Good Friday plea that they be "delivered from their darkness".

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Church of England, in the shape of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has put out this statement on the pope's resignation:

With the news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of February, the Christian world will miss a great theologian with great spiritual depth.

We should remember Pope Benedict communicated the revelation of God in a characteristic way as a true successor of St Peter. He was unafraid to proclaim the Gospel and challenge a culture that is so self-referential, managing to lift our eyes to God's glory.

Let us all lift our eyes to the glory of God, embracing his love and care for this world.

Giles Tremlett also reports that Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga is another favourite.

The 70-year-old Honduran is a saxophone- and piano-playing jazz fan and a friend of U2's Bono, according to the write-up given to him by El País newspaper in 2005 - when he was also considered a candidate to become the next pope. He often needs an armed bodyguard when travelling in his own country - where he is a critic of organised crime, local political elites and police corruption . He has called the north-south divide a "war between rich and poor".

"A southern pope would undoubtedly help to resolve a problem that endangers the future of the planet," he has said. He has argued for a global anti-corruption court and for the pardoning of debt for poorer countries.


Our Madrid correspondent Giles Tremlett notes that Spain's El Pais newspaper is reporting that Angelo Scola, the conservative archbishop of Milan, is a top candidate for next pope. His is also the name backed by the Times's religious correspondent Ruth Gledhill.

Here is some comment on the pope's resignation from Twitter users:

My tip for next Pope: Card @angeloscola of Milan.

— Ruth Gledhill(@RuthieGledhill) February 11, 2013

Really saddened. Papacy not a job. Cannot believe it. Will pray for the Holy Father & hope more to this than we yet know.

— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) February 11, 2013

POPE TO RESIGN! Not happened since 1415! (Now you know why I didn't stand for Chief Rabbi. I like to keep my options open). Watch This Space

—Yitzchak Schochet (@RabbiYYS) February 11, 2013

The Pope ( @pontifex ) joins Twitter, less than a month later quits his job due to “advanced age”. Internet wins again.#thepoweroftwitter

— trey almanza (@treyalmanza) February 11, 2013

Paddy Power emails me helpfully with the news that Bono is 1000/1 to be next Pope. More plausibly own own ArchB Vincent Nichols is 50/1

— Bryan Appleyard (@BryanAppleyard) February 11, 2013

The pope's spokesman Federico Lombardi is giving a press conference at the Vatican, which you can watch here, or below. It is in Italian.

Lombardi has said the pope's decision "took us by surprise" – indicating even Benedict's closest aides did not know what he was thinking of doing, Reuters reports. His decision left aides "incredulous", the spokesman said.

Benedict will remain "in full charge" of the Catholic church until 7pm GMT on 28 February.

His resignation is fully in compliance with church law, Lombardi has said, and Benedict took the decision freely.

He is not resigning because of any "difficulties in the papacy". Benedict does not fear a schism in the church after he resigns.

Upon resigning, he will go to the papal summer residence near Rome, and then will move to a cloistered residence in the Vatican.

Benedict will not take part in the conclave to elect his successor, Lombardi says.

He expects a new pope to be elected before the end of March.

Andrew Brown sends more on the resignation of Pope Gregory XII, the last pope to resign, in 1415.

At the turn of the 15th century the papacy was contested between popes, in Rome, and antipopes, in Avignon. The rival pontiffs anathematised and excommunicated one another. But these disputes were finally settled by the Council of Constance, 1414-18, which deposed two antipopes and accepted the resignation of Pope Gregory XII, to clear the decks for Martin V, a candidate who could be accepted by all sides.

Before then, the last real resignation of an undisputed pope from office was Clementine V, in 1294. He had not wanted election, but when he managed to resign, he was imprisoned in a monastery for the rest of his short life, lest he prove more popular than his successor.

Papal elections in the middle ages were a lot more fun than now. When Urban VI was elected in 1378, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Popes, "excited crowds demonstrated in the streets, and even invaded the Vatican, clamouring for 'a Roman, or at any rate an Italian' for pope ... Next morning, rioting broke out afresh, and at a panic-stricken session all but one [cardinal] cast their votes for Barolomeo Prignano, archbishop of Bari. Before his consent could be obtained, the mob burst in, but the terrified cardinals placated it by an injudicious piece of play-acting, pretending that an elderly Roman cardinal had been elected, and then dispersed. Next day, however, 12 returned and confirmed the election of Bartolomeo."

The Vatican following the pope's resignation on 11 February 2013.
The Vatican following the pope's resignation this morning. Photograph: BBC News Photograph: BBC News


This is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the favourite to replace Benedict.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana in 2005.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana in 2005. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Cardinals over 80 do not have a vote in the election of the next pope, which means Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the former leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, will not be involved. But the Catholic church is stressing that English and Welsh Catholics will still have input since cardinals talk to each other – and anyway the whole process is guided by the holy spirit.


When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen to become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the Guardian judged him to be “the most conservative and internally perhaps the least divisive choice” the papal conclave could have reached, and wrote:

Here is an overwhelming sense of an opportunity missed. After the Polish Pope, there is no longer a sense that the Vatican belongs to an Italian. Now, when half of the Catholic church's members are in Latin America and a further 165 million are in Africa, it seems inappropriate for him even to be European. It may be too soon for Africa to produce a leader with the stature to command the whole church, but there were strong contenders from Latin America, men like Cardinal Hummes from Sao Paulo with a tradition of engagement with the labour movement of Brazil or Rodriguez Maradiaga, the young and able Cardinal from Honduras. Doctrinally conservative, but these are men who would have stood at the gates of the richest nations in the world as symbols of the poorest.

If the bookmakers are right and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is favourite, the era of an African pope may now have arrived.


Ladbrokes are just behind Paddy Power with their own list of contenders. Their top three is the same: Peter Turkson, Marc Oullet and Francis Arinze.

5/2 Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson

3/1 Cardinal Marc Ouellet 

4/1 Cardinal Francis Arinze

6/1 Cardinal Angelo Scola 

10/1 Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

14/1 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

14/1 Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

16/1 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

25/1 Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

25/1 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

25/1 Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier

33/1 Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi

33/1 Archbishop Raymond Burke

33/1 Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

33/1 Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi

33/1 Cardinal Timothy Dolan

33/1 Cardinal Camillo Ruini

33/1 Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn

33/1 Cardinal Ivan Dias

40/1 Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa

40/1 Cardinal William Levada

66/1 Cardinal George Pell

66/1 Monsignor Pietro Parolin

Bookmakers Paddy Power have drawn up a list of contenders to replace Benedict. According to them the favourite is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana (9/4), with Cardinal Marc Ouellet next at 5/2 and Francis Arinze at 7/2. Here is their full list:

9/4 Cardinal Peter Turkson

5/2 Cardinal Marc Ouellet

7/2 Cardinal Francis Arinze

7/1 Archbishop Angelo Scola

10/1 Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

12/1 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

14/1 Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

16/1 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

20/1 Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

25/1 Cardinal Raymond Burke

25/1 Cardinal Cladio Hummes

25/1 Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi

25/1 Cardinal Christoph von Schonborn

33/1 Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

33/1 Cardinal William Levada

33/1 Cardinal Camillo Ruini

33/1 Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

33/1 Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa

33/1 Cardinal Renato Martino

33/1 Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith

33/1 Archbishop Piero Marini

33/1 Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera

33/1 Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Our Rome correspondent Lizzy Davies notes that the resignation comes without any real prior warning or public speculation.

She says the papacy will be vacant after 28 February until a successor is chosen. Lizzy writes:

The pope announced his decision in Latin this morning during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, informing them of "a decision of great importance for the life of the church". 

According to a statement released by the Vatican, Benedict, who is 85, said he was resigning due his age and declining strength.

Benedict, who became the 265th Pope in 2005, is known to suffer from arthritis, particularly in his knees, hips and ankles. 

He had been due to travel to Brazil - the largest Catholic country in the world - in July for a youth festival, but concerns had been raised privately among Vatican observers about whether he would be strong enough.


This isn't the first time a pope has resigned, notes Alex Fenton-Thomas.

The best known example involved Pope Celestine V in 1294. After only five months as the Bishop of Rome, he issued a solemn decree declaring it possible that a pope can resign and then promptly did so. He then lived the rest of his days as a hermit and was later canonised.

His papal decree ended any debate over whether a pope can justify standing down during his lifetime.

Before Celestine, the only other two pontiffs to resign were the current Pope's namesake Benedict IX in 1045 and his successor Gregory VI the year after.

Gregory had schemed to get rid of Benedict, who had been beset by a succession of financial scandals. After persuading the disgraced incumbent to resign in 1045, and then becoming his successor as Gregory VI, he also resigned the following year after he was accused of benefiting financially from Benedict's demise.

The last time a pope resigned was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. He stood down to end the "Western Schism", which threatened to shatter Roman Catholicism. Two rival claimants had declared themselves pope in Avignon and Pisa and, with the help of the wily Italian politician Malatesta, Gregory's resignation helped unite the church at the Council of Constance in 1415.


These are the main reasons the pope gives for his resignation in his statement this morning:

• His "advanced age" (he is 85) means he is no longer able to carry out all his tasks adequately.

• Both strength in mind and body are necessary for the job of pope, he says, and in the last few months such strength has deteriorated in him.

He also announced in the statement that he would renounce the office of Bishop of Rome at 8pm on 28 February.

He says a conclave will have to be convened to elect the new pope.

And he says he wishes to continue to serve the church "through a life dedicated to prayer".

Post your questions on the pope's resignation below

The pope’s resignation is almost unprecedented. Let us know what you want to know in the comments below. How is the new pope chosen? Who is in the running? We’ll answer all your questions in this blog throughout the day.


The Vatican Radio website has the full text of the pope's statement today. Here it is in full:

Dear Brothers,

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 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 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.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013



The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. My colleague Alex Fenton-Thomas is looking into that and will have more shortly.

The news seems to have come as a complete surprise to everyone. My colleague Sam Jones has just spoken to a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, who told him they were looking into reports to establish whether they were true. It seems they are.

Reuters, which broke the news of the pope's resignation this morning, is reporting that the pope has said in a statement that his strength is no longer adequate for him to continue in office due to his advanced age. He says he is resigning in "full freedom" and says he is "fully aware of the gravity of this gesture".

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign, the Vatican has confirmed.

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger's papacy began in 2005. This is reportedly only the second time a head of the Catholic church has stepped down.

Sky News is reporting that the pope will leave office on 28 February.

We'll have all the details and reaction here live.



Paul Owen and Tom McCarthy

The GuardianTramp

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