The Vatican has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will retire on 28 February.
The move has shocked Italy and Catholics world wide, given that the post is regarded as a lifetime role.
Pope Benedict XVI said of his resignation: “I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
“Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”
Pope Benedict XVI succeeded Pope John Paul II, who continued in the role up until his death, despite suggestions he should resign because of his ailing health.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope on 19 April 2005, at the age of 78, making him the oldest person to have been elected since 1730. Pope Benedict XVI is now aged 85.
The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. He did so to end the Western Schism that had reached the point where there were three claimants to the Papal throne: Roman Pope Gregory XII, Avignon Antipope Benedict XIII and Pisan Antipope John XXIII. Before resigning, Pope Gregory XII convened the Council of Constance and authorised it to elect his successor.
Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th Pope, a position in which he serves dual roles as Sovereign of the Vatican City State and leader of the Catholic Church. As Pope, he is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle. His successor will be elected via a papal enclave.