February 28, 2013 – Pope Benedict XVI resigns as the pope of the Catholic Church, becoming the first pope to do so since 1415.
On February 11, 2013, the Vatican confirmed that Benedict XVI would resign the papacy as a result of his advanced age, becoming the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. At the age of 85 years and 318 days on the effective date of his retirement, he was the fourth-oldest person to hold the office of pope. The move was considered unexpected. In modern times, all popes have stayed in office until death. Benedict is the first pope to have resigned without external pressure since Celestine V in 1294.
In a statement, Benedict cited his deteriorating strength and the physical and mental demands of the papacy; addressing his cardinals in Latin, Benedict gave a brief statement announcing his resignation. He also declared that he would continue to serve the church “through a life dedicated to prayer”.
According to a statement from the Vatican, the timing of the resignation was not caused by any specific illness but was to “avoid that exhausting rush of Easter engagements”. After two weeks of ceremonial farewells, the Pope left office at the appointed time and sede vacante was declared.
On the eve of the first anniversary of Benedict’s resignation he wrote to La Stampa (an Italian daily newspaper published in Turin) to deny speculation he had been forced to step down. “There isn’t the slightest doubt about the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” he wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “The only condition for the validity is the full freedom of the decision. Speculation about its invalidity is simply absurd,” he wrote.
Shown nearby are stamps distributed by the Vatican City postal administration honoring both Gregory XII (Issued in 1999) and Benedict XVI (Issued in 2006).