The Washington Times - February 11, 2013, 12:29PM

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said they were sending “our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI” Monday after the 85-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff unexpectedly announced his retirement because of failing health.

“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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “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.”

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The president has been at odds frequently with the American Catholic Church hierarchy over issues such as his mandate of contraceptive coverage in health-insurance plans.