Pope's resignation shows 'great care' for church: US bishops

The US conference of Roman Catholic bishops saluted Pope Benedict XVI's surprise decision to resign as "another sign of his great care for the Church."

"We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St Peter," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the conference.

The 85-year-old pontiff stunned Catholics Monday by announcing that he would resign at the end of the month, saying that, "due to advanced age," he no longer felt strong enough to lead the church.

"His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church," Dolan said in a statement on behalf of the bishops.

The cardinal touched on the child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the US church during Benedict's seven year reign, recalling his 2008 visit to Washington.

"As a pastor feeling pain in a stirring, private meeting at the Vatican nunciature in Washington, he brought a listening heart to victims of sexual abuse by clerics," the cardinal said said.

His resignation comes as the US church is fighting mandates under President Barack Obama's health care reform for contraception insurance coverage, as well as against abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights.

"Pope Benedict often cited the significance of eternal truths and he warned of a dictatorship of relativism. Some values, such as human life, stand out above all others, he taught again and again. It is a message for eternity," Dolan said.