Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that he will resign on Feb. 28, citing poor health.
He is the first pope in 600 years to resign.
Pope Benedict, the former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who took office in 2005 following the death of his predecessor, said on Monday in Rome that after examining his conscience “before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s Roman Catholics.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Sunday. The decision was confirmed by the Vatican on Monday.
The announcement is certain to plunge the Roman Catholic world into frenzied speculation about Benedict’s likely successor s.
In a statement in several languages, the pope said his “strength of mind and body” had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
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.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.
Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."
Benedict's resignation sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.
There are several papal contenders, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II. It has been speculated that the Church wants to elect a pope that is more non-traditional this time around, possibly picking a cardinal from a nation which has never held the position. Possibilities can include and African, South American, or U.S. cardinal.