Pope Benedict XVI today announced his decision to step down as Pope at the end of this month, citing poor health. He is the first pope to resign in 600 years.

REACTIONS FROM WORLD LEADERS have been respectful and complimentary as you would expect. British PM David Cameron: "best wishes...he has worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See" (...); US President Barack Obama: "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" (...): German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ""We are proud of our countryman, the first for hundreds of years to take up the role of pope….[in] an age where life expectancy is longer than ever, many people will understand that even the pope has to come to terms with the burdens of ageing" (...)

RELIGIOUS LEADERS have expressed their shock and surprise, but generally with support and understanding. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan: "The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did. His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church"; Archibishop of Canterbury James Wilson: we "join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s ministry" (...);

Journalistic EVALUATIONS OF HIS PAPACY range from the highly supportive Damian Thompson in the Telegraph: "The achievements of Benedict XVI have been subtle, above all in renewing and purifying the way the Catholic Church worships its Creator. He will be intensely missed by those of us for whom he was, in his quiet way, the most inspiring Pope of our lifetimes" (...) to the more critical from John Hooper in the Guardian: "Pope Benedict XVI's abrupt resignation on Monday heralds the end of a sad and storm-tossed eight-year papacy." (...); for a strong critique head to the Huffington Post where head of the National Secular Society Terry Sanderson says that "under Ratzinger the Vatican has become despised and resented throughout the world. He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church's popularity and its authority." (...)

CONSPIRACY THEORIES are starting already and CNN anchor Piers Morgan offers the first controversial celebrity opinion on Twitter: "As a Catholic, I'm not buying this. Popes don't just quit because they're tired. What's going on here??" (..)

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