Pope Benedict the 16th announced this morning he is stepping down as pope effective at the end of the month. Even Vatican aides admit the decision took them by surprise.
Pope Benedict spoke in Latin to a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning and announced he is resigning his position as the head of the Catholic Church effective at the end of the month.
Benedict says he is too old and too weak to continue on so -he- made the decision to step down.
"He was elected at a fairly advanced age and people thought it would be a short papacy,” said Chester Gillis, dean of Georgetown College.
The decision means the Catholic Church will be without a pope for a period of time until the cardinals can select a new successor. A papal spokesperson says he expects the church to be without a leader for as brief a period as possible. The cardinals expect to hold a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
Born Josef Ratzinger, the German became pope in April, 2005 when the cardinals selected him to succeed Pope John Paul the second.
One of his biggest tasks as pope has been to oversee the church's response to the priest sex abuse scandal. He issued a public apology for people being abused at the hands of clergy and said the church made serious mistakes in responding to allegations.
Gillis explained, "I think he's brought a certain stability to the church in light of the crisis, the sexual abuse crisis, which it needed very much."
Benedict becomes the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the position.
A Vatican spokesman says the pope's resignation is in full compliance with church law and the decision was taken freely.
President Obama released this 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."