Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: President Obama, Italian Prime Minister, Other World and Church Leaders React

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI waves to wellwishers as he leaves the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, following a vespers service, Sept. 12, 2008.
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World leaders and leading figures in the Catholic Church expressed their surprise at Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign while affirming their admiration for his work as pope.

"On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI," said President Obama in a statement. "Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's successor."

Here's a sampling of more reactions from around the world:

Cardinal Greg Burke, Vatican Communications Director, Speaking to ABC News:

"I was told a bit beforehand and it was surprise but not shock. We had a heads up on this.

It was a couple of years ago, the pope was asked about... 'do you think you will resign?' and he said, 'not in this moment,' in the midst of the crisis 'it's not the time to run.' He was pressed on the question, 'do you think a pope can resign?' And he said 'there are times when a pope could resign, and there are times when a pope should resign.'"

"We're going to have to see how it works out, but obviously it is something totally new, almost totally new. Perhaps totally new because the last one to resign went off to a monastery out of Rome. The Pope will go to a monastery inside the Vatican walls but, I tell people the side of this, the pope is very serene and calm about the whole thing, the side of this that's interesting is that he finally gets to do what he has wanted to do for about 25 years, which is to go to his books, to read and to pray. The first thing I did when I heard the news, I went onto Amazon.com, went onto the German section and ordered a book for the pope. He's finally going to have time to read it."

Statement From Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti:

"I deeply respect the decision of Pope Benedict XVI, immense and unexpected as it is. I am sure that this decision has been inspired by the will to serve the church to the end, and to make sure that it will be guided steadfastly in the future as well. I will treasure the touching memory of the personal and close dialogue with which the Holy Father has consented to accompany my commitment with the government. Today, I am close to him, and I humbly trust that this relationship, which has enriched me on an intellectual and moral level, will continue hereafter."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Speaking to ABC News:

"I was startled and then I was kind of sad cause I love him and I think we've all come to know him and we'll miss him. And the admiration that I had for him that was so intense anyway, has now even gone higher.

"And so my admiration and love for him is even higher. God love him. We're going to miss him. He'll never be forgotten. His legacy of his teaching, his preaching, his gentle omni presence, Hallelujah, what a gift he's been to us."

Statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron:

"I send my best wishes to Pope Benedict following his announcement today. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See. His visit to Britain in 2010 is remembered with great respect and affection. He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions."

Statement From Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Leader of the Archdiocese of Westminster and Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales:

"Pope Benedict's announcement today has shocked and surprised everyone. Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognize it to be a decision of great courage, and [showing] characteristic clarity of mind and action. The Holy Father recognizes the challenges facing the church, and that 'strength of mind and body are necessary' for his tasks of governing the church and proclaiming the Gospel. I salute his courage and his decision.

"I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers. We Catholics will do so, with great affection and the highest esteem for his ministry as our Holy Father remembering with joy his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. Pray, too, for the church and all the steps that must take place in the next weeks. We entrust ourselves to the loving Providence of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

Statement from the Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny:

"On behalf of the Government and people of Ireland, I would like to extend best wishes to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI following his declaration today that he intends to step down from his office.

This is clearly a decision which the Holy Father has taken following careful consideration and deep prayer and reflection.

It reflects his profound sense of duty to the Church, and also his deep appreciation of the unique pressures of spiritual leadership in the modern world.

This is a historic day in the life of the Catholic Church and for the many millions of Catholics, both here in Ireland and around the world.

Pope Benedict has given strong leadership and great service to the Church and her people for many decades.

I know that all of their thoughts and prayers will be with the Holy Father at this time, and also with those who will shortly gather in Conclave to choose his successor."

Statement from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

"Laureen and I were shocked early this morning to learn that declining health had prompted His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to renounce his office.

"His Holiness has dedicated his life to serving God and his faith. He has been a faithful steward, and will be missed.

"A renowned scholar and theologian, Pope Benedict will always have a special place in the hearts of Canadians. It was during his papacy that two of our own, Saint Brother André Bessette and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha were canonized and Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto was elevated to the College of Cardinals.

"In 2009 my family and I were honoured to have an audience with this deeply spiritual man and to hear his words of faith, hope and charity. Laureen and I join all Canadians in wishing Pope Benedict well in the future."

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Speaking From His Residence:

"My first reaction was this is ... very startling. I was totally unprepared for it. The second reaction was we're going to have to now think a little differently. This will be the first time in modern history that we've had a pope resign. How do we work with all of that? And how do we face the reality now of moving on in a new situation where we will have a former pope, a retired pope?

"It's a sign of the great humility. This pope and his love of the church and his courage to recognize as he says in his declaration that he has come to the conclusion that he doesn't have the energy, the physical energy any longer to discharge his duties as pope.

"That recognition says to me he is a very humble and honest person, and his love for the church is such that he has concluded it would be better not to try to lead this huge flock without the full strength of all of his energies."

Statement from U.S. House Speaker John Boehner:

"The prayers and gratitude of American Catholics are with Pope Benedict XVI today. The Holy Father's decision displays extraordinary humility and love for the Church, two things that have been the hallmarks of his service. Americans were inspired by his visit to the United States in 2008, and by his quiet, steady leadership of the church in uncertain times. People of all nations have been blessed by the sacrifices he has made to sow the seeds of hope, justice and compassion throughout the world in the name of Our Lord and Savior."

Statement From Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron:

"Like most of my fellow Catholics, I woke this morning to the very surprising news that Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is resigning his service as the successor of St. Peter. Quickly after the surprise followed sadness, a sense of grief at losing his fatherly care for all us, bishops, clergy and faithful. We have come to love him very much and will miss him.

"Most of us know in our own personal lives what it means to see a parent grow old and decline in ability. That is the sense we bring to this announcement. Our spiritual father has determined, by the best light given to him in prayer, that for the good of us all he must lay down his office.

"It was with the support of our daily prayers that Pope Benedict passed his years in the Chair of Peter and has come to this point. I invite all Catholics to pray all the more ardently for the Holy Father Pope Benedict, that God sustain him in these last weeks of his papacy and guide him through what lies ahead. And we look to the future with confidence, that the Lord who has given us this great pope and loving father, will give us a new shepherd of equal merit."

Statement from Catholics United Executive Director James Salt:

"Today's surprising announcement from Pope Benedict XVI is a sign of humility from the aging Holy Father. In light of his decision, we must take the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of this papacy. To many, the Catholic church hierarchy has been seen as an institution overly focused on issues of human sexuality, such as opposition to access to birth control and marriage equality, rather than first serving the poor as Christ commanded.

"The next pope has a unique opportunity to radically shift the agenda of the church. Increasingly, the Catholic church is one that represents interests far removed from Europe or North America. The cardinals can and should consider opening their horizons toward a successor from the global south, such as Latin America or Africa, whose experience represents a vastly different worldview than many church leaders.

"Catholics know the heavy burden of the papacy is wrought with challenges. The next pope will have to face the greatest moral challenge of our day: the imminent threat of global climate change and its effect on the poorest. He must protect and expand equality and the role of women and those affected by oppression. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he must dedicate himself to protecting the least among us, especially children, who have been affected by the shameful scourge of abuse.

"We pray the next pope has the wisdom to lead us in a bold direction toward hope and unity, and away from oppression and division."

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