Vatican City (AP) - Pope Benedict is resigning at the end of the month, making him the first pontiff to leave the papacy in nearly 600 years.
The 85-year-old Benedict announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of the Vatican Cardinals this morning, saying that "my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."
The Pope told cardinals, "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering."
The resignation of Benedict sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a Pope doesn't have to be observed. Syracuse Diocese Bishop Robert Cunningham said that he believes the Pope will be considered among the church’s great leaders.
“I think time will judge him to be one of the great teaching pontiffs,” Bishop Cunningham said.
Before he was elected, Bishop Robert Cunningham met Pope Benedict a few times in Rome.
“You'd never know who he was,” the bishop said. “He walked down the street in a plain black cassock going back and forth to his office and his home. He was a very humble man. I think he carried that with him to the papacy.”
More recently last October – when they celebrated mass together at the Vatican during the canonization of Saint Marianne Cope and six other saints – the bishop said he noticed Benedict seemed to move more slowly.
The pope is 85 now. When he was chosen in 2005, he was 78 – the oldest pope elected in nearly 300 years.
“I think he's felt that he has done what he can do and now he wants to devote his life to prayer and preparing himself to meet the lord and letting somebody else pick up the responsibilities,” Bishop Cunningham said.