Germany expresses 'respect', 'gratitude' for pope

A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday the German-born pope deserved "respect" and "gratitude" for his nearly eight years as pontiff after he announced he was to step down.

"The federal government has the greatest possible respect for the Holy Father, for his accomplishments, for his life-long work for the Catholic Church," said Steffen Seibert, adding the pontiff also deserved "gratitude".

"As a Christian and as a Catholic, one reacts with emotion and dismay," added Seibert in a regular government news conference.

He said Benedict XVI had left his "very personal mark" on the Church, "both as a thinker and a shepherd" to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

"Whatever the reasons may be for this declaration, they should be honoured and respected and he deserves gratitude for leading this world church for eight years in such a way," concluded Seibert.

Merkel, herself the daughter of a pastor, would speak on the issue at 1330 GMT, her office announced.

Benedict, who earlier Monday announced his intention to resign this month, was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, in the predominantly Catholic southern German region of Bavaria.

He was ordained priest at the same time as his older brother Georg in 1951, and began teaching theology at Freising College in 1958.

Ratzinger went on from there to teach at several other German universities, notably in Bonn, Muenster and Regensburg.