Abdication seems to be en vogue among the monarchs of Europe these days. Two weeks after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced that she will renounce the crown on 30 April, Pope Benedict XVI today made known his intention to step down from the papal throne on 28 February.
While it is something of a tradition for Dutch monarchs to abdicate, it is nearly six centuries since last time a pope did so. In older history there are several popes who have been deposed, but few have stepped down voluntarily.
The news of Pope Benedict's abdication should nevertheless not come as a complete surprise, as he has earlier said that he considered it a pope's duty to step down if unable to carry out his role. For Pope Benedict XVI, who will be 86 in April, this moment has now come.
Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected pope in April 2005 in succession to John Paul II, who died a few weeks short of his 85th birthday after having suffered ill-health for years.
As on the death of a pope, a conclave of cardinals will be convened to elect the next pontiff, an election in which Benedict XVI will himself not be able to vote.