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Bishop R. Walker Nickless released this statement Monday morning following the annoucement that Pope Benedict XVI will retire in late February.
"Monday morning's announcement by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, of his resignation of the office of Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome, shocked and surprised me. Yet I am sure that God's perfect plan for His Church and the salvation of souls is being followed, and that "all things work for the good of those who love Him."
Since Pope Benedict named me to be the seventh Bishop of Sioux City in November 2005, I have had several opportunities to meet with him, most recently last March, with other Bishops from the United States for an official visit to report on our Dioceses.
I admire our Holy Father greatly for his constant, strong, and courageous leadership of the Church in these troubled times. He has been the right man at the right time for a most difficult job in the Church and in the world. His love for the Church, and for the poor, is always evident in his ministry, and his pastoral example has always inspired me – as it has so many bishops, priests, religious, and laity – to strive more fully to imitate the perfect example of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to embrace my vocation with a heart on fire with love.
Along with all the faithful of the Diocese of Sioux City, I offer the Holy Father my unqualified support and obedience, and I join the whole Church in praying for him, for the College of Cardinals, and for his successor. "
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28th the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.
He emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope _ the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide requires "both strength of mind and body.''
"After having repeatedly examined my 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 the Petrine ministry,'' he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering. However, 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 strengths 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.''
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.
Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church.''
The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner _ the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.