BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she had the ‘‘very highest respect’’ for German-born Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down — a move that the pontiff’s brother said he had been considering for months amid ailing health.
Georg Ratzinger, 89, told the dpa news agency at his home in Regensburg that his brother had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and was having increasing difficulty walking.
‘‘His age is weighing on him,’’ Ratzinger said of his 85-year-old brother, Pope Benedict XVI who announced earlier in the day he would resign Feb. 28. ‘‘At this age my brother wants more rest.’’
Ratzinger did not answer repeated calls to his home seeking further comment.
In Berlin, Merkel told reporters that she saw the pope’s decision as one that he made for his church and its members.
‘‘If the pope himself has now, after thorough consideration, come to the conclusion that he no longer has sufficient strength to exercise his office, that earns my very highest respect,’’ she said. ‘‘In our time of ever-lengthening life, many people will be able to understand how the pope as well has to deal with the burdens of aging.’’
‘‘As chancellor, I thank Benedict XVI for his work and wish him from the bottom of my heart all the best for the coming years,’’ she said.
Merkel, who is a Protestant, praised Benedict for his efforts to promote dialogue with other Christian denominations and religions. She said that he ‘‘reached out his hand to Jews as well as Muslims.’’
‘‘Benedict XVI is and will remain one of the most important religious thinkers of our time,’’ she said.
President Obama issued the following statement Monday:
On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. 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.
The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence said he was stunned by the news.
Bishop Thomas Tobin on Monday says he believes the 85-year-old pope’s decision is an act of humility that puts the needs of the church above the pontiff’s own.
Tobin calls Benedict a man of great wisdom and holiness who has given his heart, mind, soul and strength to the difficult task of leading the church.
Rhode Island is one of the nation’s most Catholic states.
The head of New Hampshire’s Roman Catholic diocese gave thanks to Pope Benedict XVI for his service to the church as the pope prepares to resign.
Bishop Peter Libasci said Pope Benedict’s announcement shows how the church is a never-ending continuum. He said the pope has taught how the Church is rooted in over 2,000 years of history and how deep traditions continue to guide us forward.
Michele Dillon, a scholar of Catholicism and University of New Hampshire sociology professor, says the pope will be remembered primarily for his intellectualism and concern for the integrity of Catholic moral teaching.
The head of Maine’s Roman Catholic diocese is asking Catholics to join him in prayer and give thanks to Pope Benedict XVI for his lifetime of service to the church as he prepares to step down as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Richard Malone, who heads the Maine diocese, expressed gratitude to the pope for his life of scholarship and leadership.
Malone said Benedict seemed frail when he met with him in November 2011 at the Vatican. He said he cherishes the pectoral cross the pope gave him and other bishops who met with him.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan says he was as startled as the rest of the world about Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will resign later this month due to failing health.
Dolan says he feels a special bond with the pope because he was the one that appointed him archbishop of New York.
Dolan, speaking on the ‘‘Today’’ show Monday, says he wears the ring and the cross the pope gave him.
The pope announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28 because he’s simply too infirm to carry on.
Dolan says the conclave to elect to a new pope would do well to look for the kinds of qualities Pope Benedict possessed: knowledge about the world, a theological depth, personal piety and linguistic talent.
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign due to his frailty was met with shock, surprise and disbelief from staunchly Catholic Poland to London’s Westminster Abbey.
Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz expressed surprise at the decision, but said it was dictated by the sense of responsibility for the leadership of the Church, which Benedict has held since 2005.
In London, many worshippers entering Westminster Cathedral for a regularly scheduled mass had yet to hear about the pope’s resignation.
‘‘I didn’t realize his health was that bad,’’ said Charlie Sweeney. ‘‘He’s carried an enormous responsibility on his shoulders and the crisis one after another hasn’t really helped.’’