As pope steps down, chief rabbi lauds Vatican ties

Pope Benedict resigns, becomes 1st pope since Middle Ages to quit; Metzger praises pope's inter-religious outreach.

Pope Benedict embraces President Peres in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pope Benedict embraces President Peres in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following the announcement of Pope Benedict's resignation on Monday, Israeli chief rabbi Yona Metzger praised his inter-religious outreach and said relations between Israel and the Vatican had never been better.
"During his period (as pope) there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue," a spokesman quoted Metzger as saying after the pope announced he would resign. "I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Metzger wished the pope "good health and long days", the spokesman said.
Leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict said on Monday he will resign on Feb 28. because he no longer has the strength to fulfil the duties of his office, becoming the first pontiff since the Middle Ages to take such a step.
The 85-year-old German-born Pope, hailed as a hero by conservative Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months.
His papacy has been beset by a child sexual abuse crisis that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.
In a statement, the pope said in order to govern "...both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter," he said according to a statement from the Vatican.
A Vatican spokesman said the pontiff would step down from 1900 GMT on Feb. 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen to Benedict who succeeded John Paul, one of history's most popular pontiffs.
Elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 -- 20 years older than John Paul was when he was elected -- he ruled over a slower-paced, more cerebral and less impulsive Vatican.
But while conservatives cheered him for trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity, his critics accused him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.
Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks also responded to Monday's announcement, praising the pope's character and recalling a meeting they had in 2011.
"I was honored to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Britain on behalf of non-Christian faiths in 2010 and spend time with him during a visit to the Vatican in 2011," he said.
"I saw him to be a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm, a deeply thoughtful and compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and wisdom. I wish him good health, blessings and best wishes for the future,” Rabbi Sacks added.
Joining the chorus of voices, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder issued a statement: "It is with great emotion that we learned today that Pope Benedict XVI will retire at the end of this month. His decision deserves our greatest respect."
"The papacy of Benedict XVI elevated Catholic-Jewish relations onto an unprecedented level. Not only did he maintain the achievements of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and give the relationship solid theological underpinning but, more importantly, he filled it with meaning and with life," the statement read.
"From beginning to end, Pope Benedict XVI has shown skillful leadership. He realized that the public Holocaust denial by church leaders must not go unanswered, and he spoke out against it," Lauder continued. "He always had an outstretched hand and an open ear for Jewish leaders." staff  and Jonny Paul contributed to this report