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Catholics facing shock news of Pope's resignation

By Jon_Bayley  |  Posted: February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

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The Pope is to resign at the end of February, the Vatican has confirmed.

The 85-year-old, who became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, has resigned as he feels he lacks the strength to govern due to his age.

In a statement, the Pope said: “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.”

The move overturns centuries of tradition, and comes as a shock to both the Vatican and the rest of the World. It is the first resignation of a Pope in 600 years, the BBC says.

The resignation “took us by surprise”, a Vatican spokesperson has reportedly told news agency Reuters.

The Pope yesterday turned to social networking site Twitter to tell his 1,498,811 followers:

Born into a Bavarian farming family in 1927, although his father was a policeman, Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth at the age of 14, as was required of young Germans of the time.

The son of anti-Nazi parents, he was let out soon after because of his intention to study for the priesthood.

He was ordained into the priesthood in 1951 and went on to become a professor, teaching at the University of Bonn from 1959. In 1966 he took a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tuebingen.

As a young priest he was considered a progressive, but as a professor during the student unrest of the 1960s he became increasingly conservative.

He moved to Regensburg University in his native Bavaria in 1969 and went on to become its dean and vice-president.

He was named Cardinal of Munich by Pope Paul VI in March 1977. He spent 24 years as one of the senior figures in the Vatican, heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The 85-year-old, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 at the age of 78 following the death of John Paul II, was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected.

According to the New Statesman: “Benedict’s election in April 2005 brought despondency to Catholic progressives, who feared the new pope would attempt to purge the Church of its ‘liberals’.

“Gleeful traditionalist Catholics confidently expected that Benedict’s election would signal the purging of Catholic liberalism and the revoking of the norms of Vatican II.

“As it happened, his first year brought no marked retrenchment: the reverse, in fact; or so it seemed. Benedict spent half a day with Father Hans Küng, the Swiss liberal theologian.

“He also gave a lengthy private audience to the late Oriana Fallaci, an Italian atheist, feminist and critic of Catholicism.”

The piano-playing professor, the eighth German to head the Catholic Church, has said he never wanted to be Pope, however.

He took charge as one of the biggest scandals to plague the Catholic Church - that of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking.

The verdict is out on his handling of the scandal – his supporters claim he showed decisiveness and has done more than any other pope to confront abuse, while his critics say he failed to do enough.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican official in charge of prosecuting priests alleged to have committed serious sexual crimes, told L'Avvenire - the Italian Bishops Conference newspaper - Joseph Ratzinger “showed wisdom and firmness” in handling cases of abuse when he was head of the department in charge of Church discipline, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for four years before becoming Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI visited England and Scotland on a four-day Papal visit in September 2010. He delivered a speech at Westminster Hall, met with the leaders of other Christian traditions, took part in a service of Evening Prayer with the Archbishop of Canterbury and led a prayer vigil.

The stopover, the first papal visit since 1982, was largely considered a success.

Huge crowds gathered along The Mall in central London to greet the Pope on his way to the Hyde Park prayer vigil, and millions tuned in to his speeches, most of which were broadcast live on TV.

But the Pope was criticised for not meeting victims of abuse in public while visiting the UK. He spoke with a number of victims in a private meeting, but faced criticism about the secrecy surrounding the gathering.

Many have credited Pope Benedict XVI with modernising the Catholic Church, however – he joined social networking site Twitter in December 2012, and has since posted messages several times a week.

Last month he urged Catholics to join the site in order to spread the word and convert atheists to the faith.

And in 2010 the Pope hit the headlines after saying the use of condoms is acceptable in exceptional circumstances.

In interviews published in a book entitled Light of the World, the Pope said condoms could reduce the risk of HIV infection in certain cases, such as for a male prostitute. The Vatican later clarified the comments, however, saying he did not mean they could be used to avoid pregnancy.

But the Pope’s remarks have in the past caused offence. He has spoken out against homosexuality and once deplored rock music as “the vehicle of anti-religion”. He has said anyone who supports the “grave sins” of abortion and euthanasia should be denied Communion.

In 2006 he was slammed for a speech in Bavaria in which he drew upon a 14th Century Christian emperor's quote which said the Prophet Muhammad brought the world only evil and inhuman things. The Pope later apologised for causing offence to Muslims.

The following year Jewish leaders and community groups criticised Pope Benedict XVI after he formally removed restrictions on celebrating an old form of the Latin mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to 'be delivered from their darkness' and converted to Catholicism.

In May last year the pope's butler was formally charged over suspicions he leaked a large number of confidential letters addressed to Benedict XVI which revealed alleged corruption and nepotism at the Holy See. He was convicted by a Vatican tribunal in October for leaking secret papal papers.

But in December 2012 Pope Benedict XVI granted Paolo Gabriele Christmas pardon Saturday, forgiving him in person during a jailhouse meeting for stealing and leaking his private papers.

After the 15-minute meeting, Paolo Gabriele was freed and returned to his Vatican City apartment. The Vatican said he couldn't continue living or working in the Vatican, but said it would find him housing and a job elsewhere.

Twitter is abuzz with discussion about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation - #Pope is currently the top UK trend and the fifth-highest worldwide trend, while Papal and Vatican are also trending in the UK.

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