The politicians steering Europe through its three-year financial crisis said Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down shows the pressures of leadership.
Pope Benedict, the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, said today he no longer has the strength to lead the world’s 1 billion Catholics and will resign at the end of the month, the first such abdication in almost 600 years.
The resignation shows “the unique pressures of spiritual leadership in the modern world,” said Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who last week brokered a deal on bank debt that will save his country 20 billion euros ($27 billion). “Pope Benedict has given strong leadership and great service to the church and her people.”
Benedict will become the first pontiff to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and the announcement took even senior church officials by surprise, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a press conference in Rome.
“I’m very shaken by this unexpected news,” outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti told reporters today on the sidelines of an event in Milan, as reported by Ansa.
As the global credit crisis unfolded, Benedict found his voice as an advocate for a new financial and social order in the aftermath of the market meltdown. As an octogenarian, he published a well-timed, 150-page encyclical calling for a new economic order.
“He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. “He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See.”
After his election as pontiff, he compared the job he was about to accept with a guillotine falling toward his neck, and to capital punishment.
Succeeding a revered pope who was swiftly put on the path to sainthood, Benedict discovered not only that he couldn’t match John Paul II’s charisma but that some of the failings of his predecessor would come to haunt his own papacy.
The church came in for criticism at the start of his tenure for doing too little to punish pedophile priests and even covering up evidence of their abuse.
“This is a human decision and a decision based on a will that must be respected,” President Francois Hollande, head of France, which is legally secular.
The 85 year-old pontiff has been in his position for almost eight years after succeeding John Paul II. He came to prominence when his predecessor tapped then-cardinal Ratzinger in 1981 to head the body that tried the astronomer Galileo Galilei for heresy in the 17th century.
“In an era in which we live our lives longer, many will be able to understand how the pope must also confront the burden of age,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters today in Berlin.
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