Pope Benedict XVI is resigning, saying he lacks the strength of body and mind to “govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the gospel.” I thought it wasn’t that kind of a job, that it was sanctioned at such a high level that it wasn’t entirely voluntary (discussion question: can a supreme being and creator of the universe change his mind?). Theology: Not my strength. (Will he now become “former Pope” or “ex-Pope” or “Pope emeritus”?) (Or “Joseph Ratzinger”?)

Apparently he didn’t want the papacy seven years ago, and prayed that he wouldn’t be selected, according to this site:

“Ratzinger didn’t really want to be pope. In 1997, at the age of 70, he asked Pope John Paul II for permission to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library, but the pope refused. At the time of his election to pope, Ratzinger had hoped to retire peacefully and said that ‘At a certain point, I prayed to God “please don’t do this to me” . . . Evidently, this time He didn’t listen to me.’ ”

The resignation of the Pope is such a serious matter that it hasn’t happened in 598 years:

“The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.”

Here’s the Pope’s statement, via the Times:

“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 St. 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 St. Peter.”

Update: Bookies already putting odds on the likely candidates to be picked to replace Benedict XVI. Also note the lovely detail that the Italian news agency broke the story because the correspondent knew Latin and instantly realized what the Pope was saying.