See the Wall Street Journal, "Pope Resigns in Historic Move: Citing Age, Illness, Benedict XVI Becomes First Pontiff to Step Down in Six Centuries":
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pontiff in six centuries to resign, marking the end of a transitional papacy that focused more on theological and internal renewal and less on the broader challenges that face the Roman Catholic church at the start of its 21st century of existence.More at the link.
The pope's surprise announcement paves the way for a successor who will confront anew the task of rebuilding the church's foundations in an increasingly secular and skeptical West while continuing to spread its roots in the rapidly growing emerging world.
The 85-year-old pope, who before his 2005 election was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, announced the decision to step down in a speech in Latin Monday to a small group of cardinals, saying he no longer had the vitality to perform his duties. Only two top Vatican cardinals were informed beforehand about the historic announcement, which quickly ricocheted around the world.
"His fidelity to maintaining the truth and clarity of the Catholic faith, to cultivating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and in reaching out to inspire the next generation of Catholics have been great gifts to us all," said Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley.
The resignation of Benedict, who heads a church of one billion world-wide, was emblematic of a pope who, though doctrinal in his teachings, often bucked traditions when it came to opening the Vatican up to the world beyond its medieval walls.
Among other achievements, he took on a centuries-old rift between the Catholic and Anglican churches, introducing a pathway for disaffected Anglicans to enter the Catholic fold. He also tried to lift the veil on the Vatican's opaque finances by bringing in international observers to monitor the creation of the Holy See's first financial watchdog. He was the first pontiff to seize on social media, sending messages to a sea of followers over Twitter.
The pope also spoke out about the scandals involving sexual abuse by priests that have roiled the church in the U.S. and other Western countries, and removed some of the bishops implicated in them. Still, he drew criticism from some that he didn't speak out strongly enough or deal forcefully enough with the crisis, which has cost the church hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with thousands of abuse victims and badly damaged its image world-wide.
In all, his concerns were typical of a pope who didn't shy away from the most volatile issues facing the Catholic Church. "Some people describe him as merely an intellectual who moved in a metaphysical world. No, he's also a man who governed with a huge sense of moral responsibility," said Cardinal Julián Herranz, who has worked closely alongside the pope.
In his speech Monday, Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, said his strength "had deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity." After he steps down, the pope will retreat to a monastery to pray and write, his spokesman said.
And at the New York Times, "Successor to Benedict Will Lead a Church at a Crossroads."