Pope Benedict XVI in a surprise move announced his resignation, citing the effects of old age. You can read more on the news here and here, and follow a stream of live coverage from Reuters here.
Normally, the Catholic Church expects that popes will serve for life, but this is not without precedent. Here are a few relevant facts about the papacy:
1. The last pope to abdicate was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, in an effort to end what’s called in European history, the “Great Schism” where two men were claiming the papal throne.
2. Pope Benedict is 85, one year older than his predecessor Pope John Paul II was when he died in office. John Paul had previously considered retirement.
3. Pope Benedict is not the oldest pope to have served. Clement X (born in 1670 and died at the age of 86), Clement XII (born in 1730 and died at the age of 87) and Pope Leo XIII (born in 1810 and died at the age of 93) were all older at the time they died in office. Since the 1700s, the youngest pope at the age of his death was John Paul I, who was 65 when he passed away in 1978.
4. The next pope will be elected in a process that is relatively foolproof, and includes safeguards like burning all the votes in the event that their total does not equal the number of cardinals present.
5. Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson is reportedly a favorite to replace him. Turkson previously made waves by showing during a Vatican meeting a YouTube video titled “Muslim Demographics,” which warned of the rising tide of Islam in Europe.