Pope Benedict to Step Down, 1st Since Middle Ages

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Pope Benedict, 85, announced Monday (Feb. 11) that he would step down from his ministry, citing his advanced age and frailty as keeping him from meeting the demands of the position.

"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," Benedict said in a statement.

"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 barque 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."

Benedict, who was elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005, has been plagued by the child sex abuse scandal, in which priests who allegedly sexually abused children were often ignored or protected by the Catholic Church, allegedly. In his annual speech in 2010, Benedict said that even though the church was partly to blame for the scandal, he could not be silent about ''the context of these times. ... There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society."

More recently, in January 2012, the pope called gay marriage a threat "to the future of humanity itself," citing the need for children to have heterosexual homes. (Even so, research on families headed by gays and lesbians doesn't back up these dire assertions. In fact, in some ways, gay parents may bring talents to the table that straight parents don't.)

The pontiff is expected to step down from the papacy on Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. ET, according to news reports. The office will remain vacant until a successor is chosen.

Live Science Staff
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