William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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POPE BENEDICT TO RESIGN – AT 8:50 A.M. ET:  A stunning announcement has come from the Vatican.  From the Washington Post:

LONDON — Recognizing what he described as his failing strength of “mind and body,” Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced that he would become the first pontiff to resign since 1415.

Benedict’s decision to step down Feb. 28 means that for the first time in almost six centuries, there will be a living former pope looking on as his successor leads the Catholic 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,” Benedict said in a statement issued by the Vatican at midday in Rome (6 a.m. Washington time).

The decision by the 85-year-old German born as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger and ordained a priest in the aftermath of World War II shocked not only many of his flock, but a host of his closest aides.

During a tumultuous eight-year tenure, Benedict guided the church through sexual abuse and financial scandals while seeking to reinforce Conservative doctrine among the global ranks of more than 1 billion faithful.

Quiet and soft-spoken, especially in comparison to his gregarious predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict nevertheless maintained a vigorous travel and speaking schedule, visiting Lebanon as recently as September and, in December, launching the first ever papal Twitter account.

He was 78 when he was elected pope in 2005, the oldest person chosen to head the church since the 18th century.

And...

At a time when the church is declining in its former stronghold of Europe, but gaining strength its in Africa, Asia and Latin America, pressure is growing on the college of cardinals – the global princes of the church – to break with tradition by electing a non-European pope.

The conclave of cardinals that will choose the next pope is expected to convene in mid-March. Analysts immediately began predicting a turbulent debate between reformers and conservatives.

COMMENT:  A change in the papacy is important.  The Pope wields both religious and political influence.  It was understood when Benedict was elected that he was an "intermediate" pope, who, because of age, would probably not serve that long.  While his resignation is a shock, at age 85 a change was not entirely unexpected, although it was projected to be from the usual cause.

It's interesting that the article does not mention the possibility of an American pope. 

This will be a fascinating tradition.  For the first time since the 15th century, a pope will have a living predecessor as an adviser.

February 11,  2013