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Pope Benedict XVI to resign Feb. 28, citing health

  • FILE - In this April 28, 2009 file photo provided then by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI stands by the salvaged remains of Pope Celestine V, in the 13th-century Santa Maria di Collemaggio Basilica, the symbol of the city of L'Aquila, whose roof partially caved in during the quake. Benedict XVI announced Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on - the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. Pope Celestine V, the 13th-century hermit and saint, was one of the earlier popes to resign. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, file)

VATICAN CITY — Declaring that he lacks the strength to do his job, Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he will resign Feb. 28 — becoming the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. His decision sets the stage for a mid-March conclave to elect a new leader for a Catholic Church in deep turmoil.

The 85-year-old pope dropped the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators even though he had made clear previously that he would step down if he became too old or infirm to carry on.

Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."

Indeed, the move allows the Vatican to hold a conclave before Easter to elect a new pope, since the traditional nine days of mourning that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.

It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor, though he will not vote. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope — to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.


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