Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to step down from papacy by February 28 and sent shock waves in the entire Catholic Church. The tradition of a pope serving until his death has been observed for more than 600 years. There were only two other popes who made a similar decision of stepping down – Pope Celestine V who abdicated in 1294 and Pope Gregory XII who resigned in 1415.
The Pope’s decision came totally unexpected in spite of his reported declining state of health for the past months. His decision was announced in a meeting of cardinals which Pope Benedict XVI called for. He termed his decision as a “decision of great importance for the life of the church”.
He was elected to papacy in April 19, 2005, succeeding Pope John Paul II. His relative short term was induced by what he calls his inadequate strength due to advanced age thus leading to his faithful decision to renounce his position. He has always believed that strength in mind and body is needed to perform the duties of the Petrine ministry.
Pope Benedict XVI is an uncompromising conservative specifically on social and theological issues. His resignation will lead to an unusual situation where an ex-pope and a current pope exists at the same time. He is not expected to participate in the process of choosing his successor.
There are hopes that the successor can possibly come from developing countries where Catholicism is widespread. For a long time, chosen popes were of Italian descent. The two most recent were non-Italians since Pope John Paul II was Polish and Pope Benedict XVI is German.