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Transcribed from George Weigel’s interview on NBC News this morning:

It’s a surprise, obviously. This hasn’t happened since 1296, which is 717 years ago . . .  The pope then was Pope Celestine V. He was 85 years old, too, so there’s an interesting historical symmetry here.

Pope Benedict XVI has said on numerous public occasions including his most recent interview book that were he to come to the judgment that he did not have the physical stamina left to give the church the leadership it deserved, that he would abdicate.

I think that is frankly the word in this occasion. A resignation is something that someone hands to someone else. Popes have no one to resign to, so this is an abdication. He has said that he would consider this. I am sure that he considered it thoughtfully and prayerfully.

It is obviously unprecedented, but I think we’ve all had the sense, both from the realities of a world where people live much longer than before and from the pope’s words, that this was a real possibility.

I find the timing of this somewhat surprising since the pope is leading the church right now through what he calls a year of faith, a special year devoted to the theological virtue of faith, the proclamation of Christian faith throughout the world. I had thought, and I believe we discussed this with our colleagues at NBC, that were he to abdicate that might come logically at the end of this year.

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