Speaking in Latin to a small gathering of cardinals at the Vatican on Monday morning, Benedict said that after examining his 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 leading the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.
The statement, soon translated into seven languages, ricocheted around the globe.
A shy, tough-minded theologian who seemed to relish writing books more than greeting stadium crowds, Benedict, 85, was elected by fellow cardinals in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. An often divisive figure, he spent much of his papacy in the shadow of his beloved predecessor.
Above all, Benedict’s papacy was overshadowed by clerical abuse scandals, a scandal of leaked documents from within the Vatican itself and tangles with Jews, Muslims and Anglicans. In the case of his handling of the sex abuse crisis, critics said that his failures of governance were tantamount to moral failings.