The 85 year-old – who has quietly indicated over the years that he would take the drastic step should he feel it necessary – broke the news during a previously-scheduled consistory to approve some causes for canonization (above); originally given in Latin, the following English translation of the statement was released by the Holy See:
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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVIBeyond the statement, no timetable or other parameters are currently known on the holding of a Conclave – we're in very uncharted territory here, folks, so please be patient. The lone item of canon law to even mention a pontiff's resignation is Canon 332, paragraph 2, which states that "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone."
Along the same lines, there is no established protocol whatsoever for the titles, status or prerogatives of a retired Pope.
On Friday, Benedict raised some eyebrows by having a rare private audience with the Dean of the College of Cardinals, the 85 year-old Italian Angelo Sodano, the figure who would be responsible for the convoking of a papal election. The departing pontiff ostensibly communicated his plan to the Cardinal-Dean at that point.
That said, as both Sodano and his Vice-Dean, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, are past the eligibility age to vote, under the norms currently in place, the duty of presiding over the Conclave would seem to fall to the senior cardinal-bishop younger than 80: the retired prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Giovanni Battista Re, who turned 79 in late January.
Under the operative norms governing Conclaves in the wake of a Pope's death, the voting college is to start the election between 15 and 20 days from the moment of vacancy. In this case, however, the traditional novemdiales – the nine days of official mourning before the election – would not apply.
Now comprised of 118 voting members younger than 80, the College as a whole – retirees included – governs the church during a papal interregnum.