"Millions of Catholics are grateful for his holiness and teaching, and are encouraged by (the Pope's) gentle and loving service," says the head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, in a statement released last night following the resignation of Pope Benedict.
"As he retires to a life of prayer for the Church, we remember with gratitude and prayer his faithfulness to the call given him as Vicar of Christ and chief pastor of the universal Church," Archbishiop Hart added.
Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, said the resignation had come as a surprise to him, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
"Pope Benedict has always loved the church and worked to do what was best for her," Cardinal Pell said, who is considered a frontrunner as successor to the Pope.
"We thank him for his years of devoted leadership and service and his brilliant teaching.
"We will pray for him as he enters retirement. We shall also pray for the church as she prepares to choose the next successor of St Peter."
FULL STATEMENT BY ARCHBISHOP HART
Pope Benedict XVI resigns because of failing health (SMH)