In an unexpected move, Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he would resign the papacy at the end of the month. "The pope announced that he will leave his ministry on 28 February 2012," said the Vatican's official spokesman, Federico Lombardi. It is only the second time that a Catholic pope has resigned from office; the last one to do so was Pope Celestine V in 1295.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said in reaction to the announcement from Rome: “It is with great emotion that we learned today that Pope Benedict XVI will retire at the end of this month. His decision deserves our greatest respect. The papacy of Benedict XVI elevated Catholic-Jewish relations onto an unprecedented level. Not only did he maintain the achievements of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and give the relationship solid theological underpinning but, more importantly, he filled it with meaning and with life.
No pope before him visited as many synagogues. He met with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations. No pope before him made more strides to improve the relationship with the Jews – on so many levels.
From beginning to end, Pope Benedict XVI has shown skillful leadership. He realized that the public Holocaust denial by church leaders must not go unanswered, and he spoke out against it. He always had an outstretched hand and an open ear for Jewish leaders. Since becoming president of the World Jewish Congress in 2007, I met with him three times at the Vatican. We did not agree on all decisions that were taken during his papacy, including the restoration of the Good Friday Prayer, but on all occasions he was open-minded and listened carefully to the points we made.
Pope Benedict XVI has been sincere in his intention - and actions - to place relations with the Jews on a rock-solid footing. We hope that his successor will continue from where he leaves off.
We wish His Holiness all the best for the coming years. We thank him for the trust and respect he has shown to us. With his actions, he has earned the ever-lasting friendship of the Jewish people. We will miss him."
German-born Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005, following the death of John Paul II. At 78, the cardinal was one of the oldest new popes in history when assuming the papacy. He took the helm as one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades - the scandal of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking.
Text of the statement made by Pope Benedict XVI on his forthcoming resignation
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
BENEDICTUS PP XVI