Advancing age forces Pope Benedict XVI to quit office
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Pope's decision must be respected if he feels he is too weak to carry out his duties. British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.”
The pontiff would step down from 7 pm GMT on February 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen to Benedict who succeeded John Paul, one of history's most popular pontiffs, the spokesman said.
Elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 - 20 years older than John Paul was when he was elected - Benedict ruled over a slower-paced, more cerebral and less impulsive Vatican.
Meek demeanour, steely intellect
But while conservatives cheered him for trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity, his critics accused him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.
Under the German's meek demeanour lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.
After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, he began feeling at home with his new job and showed that he intended to be Pope in his way.
Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globe-trotting predecessor -- whom he put on the fast track to sainthood and whom he beatified in 2011 -- aides said he was determined not to change his quiet manner to imitate
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