Two days before Ash Wednesday, in what is surely an unprecedented move in modern times, the Vatican has just announced that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, for reasons of diminishing energy and strength. An enclave will meet in mid-March to elect his successor, meaning a new Pope could be in place by Easter, which this year falls on March 31.
UPDATE: The lead headline from Poland's leading daily reads: "'Thunder Bolt From the Clear Sky.' Pope Benedict XVII Announces Abdication. First Such Situation in 700 Years."
The New York Times immediately injects a note of gracelessness:
The announcement is certain to plunge the Roman Catholic world into frenzied speculation about his likely successor and to evaluations of a papacy that was seen as both conservative and contentious.